Letter to the Editor: Celebrating National Agriculture Week

National Agriculture Week is a good opportunity for all of us to appreciate our natural resources and consider how we can all do our part to protect them.

As a 4th generation cattle and crop farmer in Tama County, I would like to share how farmers are protecting soil and water in our area by reducing tillage, applying fertilizer precisely and implementing cover crops.

Reducing tillage or doing no-till keeps the past year’s crop residue on the soil surface, giving the soil a barrier almost like a roof on your house. This barrier prevents erosion and keeps valuable nutrients in place on the farm and out of local waterways. Iowa farmers lead the nation in reduced tillage and nearly 30% of acres in Iowa practice no-till.

Another practice gaining popularity throughout Iowa is cover crops. Cover crops are usually planted in the late summer or early fall to keep live roots in the soil and blanket the soil over winter. These living roots feed soil biology and act as a highway system creating pathways through the soil for water and nutrients to be used. On the soil surface, these crops cover the ground similar to mulch in a garden, letting water slowly soak into the soil and protecting it from the elements.

According to the Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council, cover crop acres added up to nearly 4 million acres in Iowa in 2022, up from around 10,000 acres in 2009.

An important fertilizer in corn production is nitrogen. Many farmers test their soil’s nutrient content so fertilizer can be applied at the right amount on the right acre. Just like you wouldn’t leave the lights on when you’re away from home or a faucet running when not in use, farmers ensure resources are used responsibly.

Since the 1970s, nitrogen applied in crop production has stayed relatively flat according to the USDA, whereas national corn yield has more than doubled since that time. It’s just another example of how with today’s technology and innovation, farmers are enhancing their sustainability efforts.

Today, Iowa farmers are producing more food, fuel, fiber and everyday items with fewer inputs all while protecting their most important asset–Iowa soil. But we’re not done yet and will continue to look for opportunities to improve water quality, soil health and this county we all call home.

Joe Kvidera