Despite cool and wet conditions that delayed spring planting, Iowa’s 23 million acres of row crops now stretch toward the sun. Another sign of progress also is evident: Farmers are actively protecting Iowa’s precious natural resources. While it may be difficult for the casual observer to see those practices in action, this demonstration farm operated by the Land Improvement Contractors Association showcases what is happening across the state.
The LICA farm, as it is called, is designed to reduce the amount of nutrients and sediment entering local waterways. At 80 acres, it’s a relatively small operation, but it controls and treats runoff from more than a thousand acres in the watershed. Scott Recker with the Land Improvement Contractors Association says, “I like to think of this as an agricultural water treatment facility. Water comes in from the north. We used to have a meandering type river that water ran fairly quickly on, now we’re slowing the process down. We have several wetlands, a CREP, and deep-water pond, with all kinds of edge-of-field practices that are feeding tile water into those water bodies.
CREP means Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. The CREP waterway was built with cost share funds from several government agencies, and it removes about 1,500 pounds of nitrogen per year. It’s a key stage in a series of cascading wetlands that remove most of the nutrients from the water.
Upland conservation efforts at the LICA farm include man-made terraces to minimize erosion, a sediment control basin to control runoff from neighboring fields, saturated buffers, and even an underground bioreactor.
This is the first stage, Recker says it all begins with water entering the farm, “As water comes in, it’s being held here. You’ll notice it’s green. We want it to be green. We’re trapping the nutrients here. Let the vegetation, let the black dirt utilize those nutrients before they send them downstream to the neighbor.”
Iowa State University is monitoring the water quality at multiple sites on the LICA farm. Testing is yet to be completed, but LICA officials estimate the system is keeping about half of the phosphorus and nearly all of the nitrates from leaving the operation.
The LICA Farm is located east of Melbourne, Iowa and it is open to the public. There is no admission fee and visitors are welcome to take self-guided tours.