Forum on Agricultural Practices

September 2, 2018. Huxley, Iowa. Day 2 of the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March.

The forum this evening gets to the heart of First Nation-Farmer unity. 

Local progressive farmer Lee Tesdell described his work in improving agricultural practices (detailed at the end of this post) which was followed by a good discussion including Native American’s reactions to what he said.

Lee Tesdell
Lee Tesdell progressive farmer

Matthew Lone Bear captures the key parts of this discussion in the following video, where Christine Nobiss explains that she feels Native agricultural practices are superior ways to grow food, especially regarding the quality of the soil and water.

Ed Fallon then asks the key question, how can more farmers be convinced to change to the improved agricultural practices Lee and Christine talk about?

Lee and I, and our brothers Jon Tesdell and Randy Kisling, attended Scattergood Friends School in the late 1960’s.  The School’s name has been changed to Scattergood Friends School and Farm, because this Quaker boarding high school in on a working farm near West Branch, Iowa, which plays a large role in the students’ education. Students rotate through various crews to do the work needed at the school. Some of the crews are dishes, pots and pans, laundry, various cleaning crews, bread baking, dinner prep, farm, etc. Various academic subjects involve working on the farm

I am not very familiar with farm subsidies and practices, so what follows is mainly from internet research. Most farmers focus on producing corn and soybeans because of government subsidies to farmers that help reduce the risk if crops don’t do well. Little of this corn and soybean production is used for food.

“Iowa leads the nation in ethanol production, with 39 percent (953 million bushels) of the corn grown in Iowa going to create nearly 30 percent of all American ethanol.”  Iowa Corn.

“Nitrate (NO3) is a naturally occurring form of nitrogen in soil. This form of nitrogen is created when nitrification, the conversion of ammonium into nitrate, occurs. Nitrate is used as food by plants for growth and production.”  https://homeguides.sfgate.com/normal-soil-nitrate-levels-80102.html

“Beneath agricultural lands, nitrate is the primary form of nitrogen. It is soluble in water and can easily pass through soil to the ground-water table. Nitrate can persist in ground water for decades and accumulate to high levels as more nitrogen is applied to the land surface every year.

Knowing where and what type of risks to ground water exist can alert water-resource managers and private users of the need to protect water supplies. Although nitrate generally is not an adult public-health threat, ingestion in drinking water by infants can cause low oxygen levels in the blood, a potentially fatal condition (Spalding and Exner, 1993)”  A National Look at Nitrate Contamination of Ground Water

“Des Moines Water Works officials said continued high nitrate levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers have forced Water Works to activate its nitrate removal facility in order to keep finished drinking water safe for consumption.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Des Moines Water Works is obligated to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for the maximum contaminate level in its finished drinking water.” https://www.kcci.com/article/500-000-iowans-now-paying-to-remove-this-from-drinking-water/6905782

Lee described a bio reactor he built on his farm to help denitrify the water draining from his fields. This 30 foot trough of wood chips located just before the water enters surface runoff reduces the nitrate content of the water.

los_nitrate_runoff5_conservation_bioreactor
Lee Tesdell and the denitrifying Bioreactor on his farm

Lee spoke about his Century Farm, “located on Alleman Creek in the 76,000 acre Fourmile Creek Watershed, Lincoln Township, Polk County, Iowa.” Most of the following is from the fact sheet he handed out. Lee installed solar panels on his farm quite a few years ago.

Farm Goal

Enhance soil health and water quality while we produce good grain yields and stay financially sound.

History

We are the southern tip of the Des Moines Lob which was last glaciated about 12,000 years ago; human occupation followed soon after. In Iowa, simple agriculture emerged about 5,000 years ago; human occupation followed soon after. In Iowa, simple agriculture emerged about 5,000 years and Native American peoples ere growing maize and other crops here by about 1,100 years ago. (Note, some of the Native Americans here indicated that the agriculture wasn’t really simple. For example, a number of kinds of maize were developed.)

Themes

  • Industrial grain production degrades our water quality, so we should do our part to solve the problem.
  • Farm management focused on the long term leads to improved water quality and soil health; short-term yield-based farming is harmful to the natural environment.
  • Operators and owners need to work together to implement science-based conservation practices.

Farm Drainage and Crops

  • Three modern drainage tiles: two on terraces and one on the waterway. Several older clay tiles.
  • Five acres of alfalfa/orchard grass hay. About ten acres of creek and buffer strips.

Conservation Practices : In-field and edge-of-field

In-Field

  • No-till soybean/corn rotation since 1993
  • Cover crops since 2012. On August 30, 2017 we seeded cereal rye and tillage radishes into standing corn with a Hagie. Planted SB on April 28, 2018. On September 1, 2018 we aerially seeded rye, vetch, lentils, and rapeseed

Edge of Field

Waterway on south end (built and tiles in 2010.

Brome grass strips (50 feet on both sides) along Alleman Creek (seeded 2000, re-enrolled 2015).

Three east-side terraces designed by NRCS (build and tiled April 1991) and one west-side terrace (built and tiled in May 2010).

Woodchip bioreactor designed by NRCS installed by local contractor (November 2013). Since May 2014, with 4 years of data, we show that we have reduced the nitrates in this tile water by 53%. Note that our nitrate load is already low and some water may bypass the bioreactor in heavy flow times.

Saturate buffer on west of creek installed September 1,2017 on neighbor’s tile. First 7 data points show 93% denitrification.

Prairie strips on east side of creek incorporating the three existing terraces seeded November 25, 2017. Several native plant species identified summer 2018. Mowed three times during summer.

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