Iowa Falls family honored with sustainable agriculture award


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Wetlands can improve water quality and create habitat for wildlife on Iowa farms. (Scott Smithson/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | February 10, 2017

John and Beverly Gilbert were honored with the 2017 Practical Farmers of Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award at last month’s Practical Farmers of Iowa Conference.

Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to “strengthening Iowa farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information sharing.” Each year PFI offers the Sustainable Agricultural Achievement Award to an individual or couple that demonstrates a strong commitment to practicing sustainable agriculture and sharing that knowledge with others, all while fostering community.

John and Beverly Gilbert of Iowa Falls keep a 770-acre farm featuring corn, soybeans, oats, hay, and some annual crops for forage. The family also milks 50 to 60 Brown Swiss cattle and keeps pastured-raised, antibiotic-free pigs that are sold to Niman Ranch.

The Gilberts’ farm borders Southfork stream, a tributary of the Iowa River. They have taken many measures to improve water and soil quality on their land including stream buffers, extensive grass headlands and waterways, and terraces. The farm also features woodland areas, a prairie marsh remnant, and a restored shallow wetland, all a part of the Gilberts’ conservation efforts.

John said, “The mindset has gotten so focused on raising corn and beans that not many understand the potential of this landscape to support people. I have long thought that if we can’t replace the number of people we have farming, there are serious problems ahead for society.”

Wendy Johnson, PFI board member and farmer near Charles City, commended the recognition of the family. She said,

“Their farming system, management and decision-making encompass all that is or should be good about Iowa: its air, water and soil. They protect these elements alongside creating a viable farming business for multiple families. Their farm is what PFI means to me: a sustainable farm on all levels.”

Linn County voters overwhelmingly support conservation ballot measure


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Indian Creek is one of many waterways in Linn County which will benefit from the $40 million conservation bond passed on Tuesday. (Flickr/Carl Wycoff)
Jenna Ladd | November 11, 2016

Despite a divisive national political climate, voters in Linn County spoke with one voice in favor of conservation measures in their county on Tuesday.

Introduced by the Linn County Conservation Board, the ballot measure proposed a $40 million bond to be used for land and water conservation efforts in the county. Unlike other ballot measures in the state, which are typically decided by razor-thin margins, the conservation bond proposal passed with over 74 percent voter approval. The Linn County Conservation Board plans to use 55 percent of the funds for water quality and land protection, 30 percent for parks, and 15 percent for trail improvements. The group has issued a list of 30 potential projects which include wetland development along the Cedar and Wapsipinicon Rivers and several smaller creeks, woodland restoration, native prairie restoration, and improvements to outdoor recreation facilities.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said that this year’s September floods in Cedar Rapids may have influenced the voters’ decision. He said, “We’re coming off the September flooding event that raised to the top of people’s minds how important watershed management is. Many people I visited with about this subject matter looked at this as water quality and watershed management.” Linn County Conservation Deputy Director Dennis Goemaat agreed. He said, “People value their recreation and water quality in natural areas.”

Goemaat added that the board wants to begin working with  Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and other invested groups as soon as possible in order to work on funding the projects. It will take time to raise the $40 million, representatives say, but Mayor Corbett is hopeful that the success of the ballot measure will encourage legislators to allocate money to the Iowa DNR’s Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund of 2010, which funds Iowa DNR programs.

Hillary Hughes is vice-president of the Linn County Conservation Board. She said, “This is an affirmation vote. I think this should demonstrate to lawmakers statewide that conservation is important to citizens of Iowa.”

Environmentalists link crop insurance to habitat loss


Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region, Flickr.

Environmental groups blame crop insurance for the loss wildlife habitat in Iowa and around the nation.

A report from the Environmental Working Group and Defenders of Wildlife attributes crop insurance to the increase in farming on marginally productive land. This causes the loss of wildlife habitats such as wetlands and grasslands.

A study by one of the authors of the report found that only Texas and South Dakota lost more habitat than Iowa over a three-year period.

Read more from The Gazette here.

UI engineers use wetlands to purify water


Constructed westland. Photo by Sustainable sanitation, Flickr.

The University of Iowa’s alumni magazine features an in-depth look at how UI engineers are using wetlands to purify contaminated bodies of water.

In addition to purifying water, these wetlands save energy costs and help restore the wetland habitat that has been greatly reduced by human development.

The article partially focuses on the work of CGRER’s co-director Jerry Schnoor, and CGRER member Louis Licht.

Find the article here, beginning on page 26.

USDA announces $6 million wetlands project in Iowa


The Des Moines River. Photo by jimmywayne, Flickr.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday plans to spend $6 million on improvements to the Raccoon and Des Moines river watersheds.

The project, called the North Raccoon River Wetland Initiative, aims to improve wildlife habitat and water quality in the area while also taking measures to prevent flooding.

In total, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will spend $32 million to restore wetlands in seven states across the Mississippi River Basin.

For more information, read the full article at the Des Moines Register.

Flooded farmland converted to wetlands in Clinton County


Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Midwest Region, Flickr

Clinton County is making the best of a bad situation. 100 acres of former farmland  that was flooded in 2008 and 2010, is being converted into wetlands and prairie. The land in near Wheatland, along the lower Wapsipinicon River. A federal grant and area groups pledged nearly $100,000 to purchase the land. Continue reading