POSTVILLE – It was a beautiful evening for the annual Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development (NEIRCD) appreciation dinner held Thursday, Sept 6, at the Big Four Fairgrounds in Postville.
New Director Paul Berland emceed the event. Berland recently became director when Lora Friest, who had been with NEIRCD since 1999, announced her retirement. He stated Friest is the reason NEIRCD is one of the largest and most successful in the nation.
The NEIRCD is a 501©(3) organization that primarily serves Allamakee, Buchanan, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette, Howard, and Winneshiek counties. However, the organization also tackles projects that go across Iowa when benefits are expected to come back to the region. They partner with economic development and tourism directors, county and state conservation leaders, small business owners, farmers, city councils and their staff, county boards of supervisors and their department heads, and other entities.
Each year the NEIRCD brings together those partners to celebrate successes and provide education about new projects.
In recent years, presentations were given on flood mitigation and water quality. This year the topics focused more on watershed activity throughout the region.
The first speaker of the evening was Tori Nimrod, a project technician and GIS analyst for NEIRCD. Her presentation was on “Enhancing Partnerships Through GIS Analysis.”
Nimrod assisted with the Upper Iowa River and Upper Wapsipinicon River watershed projects. She talked about using “Best Management Practices” in both cases when implementing watersheds to protect infrastructure and vulnerable populations and communities. She said the watersheds could be broken down further into “bridgesheds” to more easily partner with county supervisors and engineers by defining goals and projects better. Other partners in projects would be the local soil and water districts as well as property owners.
Watershed projects not only help retain the soil for the agricultural communities, but can help mitigate flooding and improve water quality for residential communities along the watersheds and downstream. By working together, communities can share costs (e.g., infrastructure, easements), lobby the legislature together, and be eligible for other incentives.
The next speaker was Ross Evelsizer. He started out with some sobering statistics, (e.g., between 1988 and 2016, Iowa ranked fourth behind Texas, Missouri, and Kentucky with 951 flood-related FEMA disaster declarations. His map showed how the Iowa events were concentrated in the northeast part of the state with Buchanan County among the highest occurrences.
“The cost of flooding in Iowa totaled $18 billion,” he said, adding, “It is likely that this estimate is considerably low.”
He then quoted Antonio Arenas of the Iowa Flood Center, saying, “The cost of doing nothing is not zero.”
He also made the point that Iowa’s number one export is not corn or soybeans, it’s soil; to the tune of 165,000,000 tons per year.
Along with watersheds, Evelsizer spoke about multi-cropping, the practice of harvesting more than one crop from the same field in the same year. Grains such as wheat, rye, oats, and barley all work well with soybeans.
Another way he defined it was as “Regenerative Agriculture.” A “system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services.”
He listed the environmental benefits as:
• Continuous living roots
• Reducing soil disturbance (physical and chemical)
• Increasing diversity
• Armors the soil (through dead plant residue after harvest or an active growing cover crop)
• Provides opportunities to integrate livestock
From a business or agronomic perspective, the benefits include:
• Diversifying investments
• Building soil health
• Suppressing weeds
• Higher economic opportunity
Evelsizer went through an example showing the financial gain after a year of multi-cropping. Although impressive, he recognized there a few factors why people do not try the practice:
• Marketability of small grains
• Insurance limitations
• Equipment needs
• Fear of change
With every new advance in any business or practice, he said there will be innovators followed by early adopters. The majority of people will fall into the early or late majority. The final groups to embrace change will be the laggards.
He believes the next steps involve forming multi-cropping collaboratives, developing non-traditional markets, expanding producer knowledge, developing equipment, and expanding crop combinations.
After the speeches, the crowd was invited enjoy the barbecued ribs and chicken catered by Bubba’s BBQ of Waucoma.