Graduate student Hanna Poffenbarger (PhD), Dr. Ajay Nair (Horticulture) and Dr. Matthew Liebman (Agronomy) recently presented research at the Practical Farmers of Iowa Annual Conference, which took place Jan. 19-21 in Ames. The conference has served as the backbone of PFI since its founding, providing farmers with “learning, networking and grassroots solutions to on-farm challenges for a more diverse, sustainable agricultural landscape.”
Poffenbarger and other agricultural leaders from across the Midwest taught the pre-conference short course “Conserving $$ and Soil.” Using her research on soil carbon and nitrogen cycling, Poffenbarger discussed the profitability of integrated crop-livestock systems, which can generate similar profits to conventional corn-soybean production systems. During the Q&A, attendees discussed benefits of integrated crop-livestock systems such as greater resilience to changing climate and long-term soil health improvement but also pointed out that a more intensive labor requirement represents a drawback for many farmers.
Although Poffenbarger previously attended the conference, she was pleased to see a short course focused on saving money and soil this year. “As a soil scientist, I love to see the adoption of conservation practices but I know that farmers must also consider their own bottom line. It was interesting to learn how farmers can manage costs and conserve soil simultaneously.”
Dr. Nair co-presented the workshop “Building Soil Fertility on a Vegetable Farm” with Denise O’Brien of Rolling Acres Farm and discussed the compositions and application rates of organic and synthetic fertilizers, among other topics. Dr. Nair also did a compost application exercise where participants calculated the amount of compost needed to both satisfy crop nutrient demands and stimulate soil biology.
“A number of vegetable growers use a mixed approach of compost and synthetic fertilizer to manage fertility,” Dr. Nair said. “I believe the session provided them real-time interpretation of a soil test report and helped them realize the nutrient and biological potential of compost.”
At the conference, Dr. Liebman valued time to catch up with old friends and learn new ideas. He presented the workshop “Managing Weeds More Successfully,” which used ragweed to exemplify the widespread issue of herbicide resistance that has become increasingly problematic for farmers in the Corn Belt.
“The good news is that basic principles from ecology and evolutionary biology, coupled with some flexibility in cropping systems, can lead to effective suppression,” he said.