SWCS actively engages in policy conversations, on-the-ground projects, educational publications and professional development opportunities, and effective partnerships that support and inform conservation professionals and their work.
SWCS collaborates with scientists and policymakers to produce results-oriented guidance for conservation stakeholders. We engage government and nongovernment partners in conversation through conferences, hold blue-ribbon panels, and provide recommendations to legislative committees. Issues of interest include farm bill conservation programs, climate change policy, conservation compliance, and research funding.
Our Special Projects and Policy Director tracks legislative issues to inform our membership of current political action and serves as a link to lawmakers and other national conservation organizations.
The SWCS Science and Policy Committee meets monthly to present and discuss topics of current and ongoing interest within the scientific community. The committee’s work includes the creation of topic-specific task forces, publication of journal articles and white papers, and guidance for the annual conference planning committee. Past committee meeting minutes and presentations are available to the public, and all members are invited to join this active committee.
Through grant-funded conservation education and implementation efforts, SWCS promotes innovative practices that foster the science of soil, water, and related natural resources management to achieve sustainability.
Advancing Precision Nutrient and Soil Health Management with Retailer Cooperatives
In November of 2019, our partnership with Truterra (formerly Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN) was awarded over $1.5 million in funding by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service through the inaugural On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials, a newly established component of the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill. You can read USDA’s press release here.
Through the project, the Society and Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN aim to accelerate the adoption of precision nutrient management and soil health practices in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. Our organizations will work to support agricultural retailers to engage producers in on-farm trials that demonstrate the agronomic, environmental and economic incentives for conservation practice adoption. Through firsthand experience, the project’s objective is to increase producer knowledge of these practices, integrate conservation management programs into retailer services, and broaden and accelerate conservation practice adoption.
Conservation Technology; Identifying, reviewing, and adopting solutions
This joint collaboration with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service seeks to enhance the ability of the NRCS to efficiently adopt, and disseminate technology. It will work with conservation technology leaders to assess the current state-of-the-art in terms of technologies that have applicability for natural resource conservation in order to identify solutions that will accelerate the implementation and adoption of conservation sciences by producers.
Building Capacity for Edge of Field Implementation in Iowa
This collaboration with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship is focused on building edge of field capacity in Iowa by understanding the current process, investigating other models within and outside Iowa, exploring how other groups can be incentivized to contribute, and altering the conservation model to include these insights. Edge of field practices include wetlands, saturated buffers, bioreactors, drainage water management, as well as others.
This project seeks to understand the current process and structural limitations of edge of field practices, and to identify redundancies, bottlenecks and opportunities to coordinate with partners. By assessing other state models and building a coalition around edge of field scale up, this project strives to remove barriers and increase edge of field practice adoption.
Optimized Water Quality Wetlands
Since 2015, SWCS has partnered with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Agribusiness Association of Iowa, Iowa State University, and various engineering firms and contractors to scale up water quality wetlands in Iowa. The goal of this project is to identify opportunities for funding, cost-saving, and speeding up the timeline from farmer interest to project completion.
The project has investigated various federal funding mechanisms for water quality wetlands, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and CP-39 Constructed Wetlands, part of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Farmable Wetlands Program. The project team also explored market-driven mechanisms for wetland funding, including community organizations, corporate/nonprofit sponsorship, drainage districts, and state revolving loan funds.
The Society is working with engineering firms to install wetlands and to adapt their designs for improved water quality benefits and decreased costs. The team has found that when comparing traditional Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) wetlands and tile-zone wetlands designed through this project, costs can be significantly reduced for the latter because a smaller land area is needed, leading to smaller easement costs. Additionally, there are less design and construction costs.
The project was extended to June of 2022.
In 2016, collaborative efforts of SWCS, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Resolve, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service created a Watershed Academy program with the purpose of providing much-needed training and support to watershed coordinators. Watershed Academy topics are hands-on and collaborative. Trainings have included conservation planning, managing nitrogen, running a successful field day, selling conservation, siting bioreactors and saturated buffers, leveraging financial resources, and using social media to access a desired audience.
Since May of 2016 the Watershed Academy has been held twice, annually. The project’s funding, a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant, ended in December of 2018. However, the project’s success has secured funding from other collaborators, and the Watershed Academy will continue indefinitely.
Conservation Media Library
In September of 2018 the Society unveiled its Conservation Media Library! The project, a joint collaboration with Conservation Districts of Iowa and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) since 2015, is a multimedia storing house for conservation photos, graphics, videos, drone footage, PowerPoints, and other resources. Made possible by a Conservation Innovation Grant from the NRCS, the library is focused on four conservation practices: cover crops, drainage water management, saturated buffers, and prairie strips. Included in the library are curated sets of photographs that lead the audience through the process of installing conservation practices, step by step. The photographs and videos feature farmers, landowners, contractors, scientists, and other conservation professionals sharing their perspectives and positive experiences with the practices. The library’s photos, videos, and supplemental materials already have over 100,000 online views!
All materials on the website, including photos, are available for public download and circulation. Please take advantage of the library’s resources. This project has secured further funding to expand the Library with additional conservation practices including wetlands and bioreactors.
Barriers to Edge of Field Practice Adoption
Throughout 2017 and 2018 Society staff worked on a project to identify barriers to edge of field conservation practice adoption in Iowa. Edge of field practices such as wetlands, saturated buffers, bioreactors and drainage water management are powerful tools to protect water quality and also have ancillary benefits like habitat creation in the case of wetlands. In order to reach state and regional goals for nutrient reduction in our waterways farmers in the Mississippi River Watershed will need to adopt a suite of conservation practices. It simply will not be possible to reach these goals without an exponential increase in edge of field practice adoption.
Interviews on the state of edge of field practice adoption were conducted with a cross section of state and federal staff including the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, as well as private engineers and contractors, and agribusiness. They were asked which barriers need to be removed and which opportunities need to be realized in order to scale up adoption.
Interviews were also conducted with farmers who had installed a variety of edge of field practices. Their reasoning for the investment included a spectrum of views from water quality benefits, concerns about legacy, and avoiding future regulations. However, all farmers cited a trusted conservation professional who facilitated the process as the key factor for success.
Please read our final report to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, here.
SWCS holds an annual conference each July and hosts regional events as well as local meetings, workshops, and tours throughout the year. Learn more about upcoming national events and check our events calendar for the full schedule.
SWCS collaborates with a range of like-minded organizations, including industry, government, university, and nonprofit partners, to bring the best conservation programming and resources to our membership and the public. If you are interested in partnering with SWCS on a project or event, please contact us with ideas or consider joining as a corporate partner.