On the Plus Side 4R Plus Practices

[DES MOINES, Iowa] – Farmers across Iowa see the “Plus Side” of weatherproofing farms, protecting their valuable soil, improving water quality and preserving productivity for future generations. According to the 2020 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, 58% agreed they should take additional steps to protect their land from extreme weather events.

The poll also found:

  • 81% said climate change was threatening agricultural productivity, compared to 68% in 2011
  • 51% said they plan to use conservation practices to increase their farm’s resilience to extreme weather

4R Plus, an organization that promotes using precise 4R nutrient stewardship along with conservation practices to improve productivity on Iowa’s farms while protecting our natural resources, has launched a social media campaign named “On The Plus Side” to showcase the benefits of adding in-field and edge-of-field practices. They’re encouraging farmers to join in.

Paige Frautschy, Iowa Agriculture Program Director for The Nature Conservancy, said “On the Plus Side” highlights the work Iowa farmers are doing to protect the productivity of the land. “Iowa’s farmers are the keepers of some of the most highly productive soil on the planet. Using regenerative ag practices that will build soil health and improve water quality is critical to continuing to grow food, fuel and fiber at a globally significant scale,” she said. “We want to provide a platform where farmers can tell their stories and inspire action on the Iowa landscape.”

Join the “Plus Side” movement

4R Plus invites farmers to tag @4RPlus on their Facebook or Twitter posts with a picture of their family and explain why it’s important to protect their land for future generations. They can also share a picture of their crops or farm and share their Plus Side of protecting the soil.

On Twitter, use hashtags: #PlusSide #4RPlus #Weatherproofing

4R Plus is following four Iowa farmers through the 2021 growing season to learn their Plus Side stories. “These farmers, from different areas of the state, use a variety of 4R Plus practices, but all have the same goal of improving soil health for improved crop productivity now and in the future,” Frautschy said. “4R Plus encourages farmers to talk to their crop adviser or Natural Resources Conservation Services expert to learn about the 4R Plus practices that are the best fit for their acres.”

The Plus Side of weatherproofing

Washington County farmer Michael Vittetoe is committed to adding practices that weatherproof his farm. When he joined his family’s farming business, he continued their no-till legacy and began experimenting with cover crops. He’s seeing soil health and economic benefits accumulate.

Vittetoe said another Plus Side to cover crops is the flexibility they provide when managing weather extremes. During a wet spring, cover crops help draw moisture from the soil profile through transpiration, and during a dry spring, he terminates earlier to save moisture for the cash crop. “We have also reduced our herbicide use by about 50% while providing more flexibility in the weed control programs we use,” he added.

The Plus Side of protecting valuable soil

Grundy County farmer Dale Launstein uses 4R Plus practices to keep his soil to himself. “I didn’t like putting the tillage tool in the ground and watching the soil ride away with a heavy rain event,” he said. “I like the positive effects of no-till, strip-till and cover crops. This system keeps the soil where it belongs.”

The 2021 growing season is the third year Launstein and his brother, John, will use cover crops on all the acres they farm because they see a Plus Side to improving yield consistency on corn and soybean acres.

The Plus Side of protecting water quality

O’Brien County farmer Kelly Nieuwenhuis switched to one-pass vertical tillage in 2016 after a long history in a full tillage program. His Plus Side is impressive: increased organic matter, reduced fertilizer applications, reduced pesticide use, improved water quality, drastically reduced fuel and equipment costs from fewer passes, good earthworm populations – and good yields.

Tile lines are regularly tested for nitrate levels to assure he’s being a good neighbor. Tests reveal nitrate levels are under .01 parts per million (ppm), which is well below the U.S. EPA nitrate standard for primary drinking water from public water supplies, which is 10 ppm.

The Plus Side of preserving productivity

Fremont County farmer Julius Schaaf still helps on the farm while management is transitioned to his son Shane. He has a long history of protecting the soil from erosion by using 4R Plus practices like no-till and cover crops. They also maintain terraces, waterways and buffer strips, and have restored wetlands and added ponds to expand the quail habitat.

Schaaf is a firm believer improving soil productivity is critical to producing more food while seeing the Plus Side of using fewer inputs. “When you take a 60-year look at agriculture, the amount of crops we’re taking off the land compared to the amount of fertilizer and chemicals we’re putting in, it’s amazing how we’ve advanced production without increasing inputs,” he said. “Some of it is improving plant genetics, but we’re also increasing productivity because of the way we’re treating our soils.”

To learn more about 4R Plus and the farmers featured in this article, visit www.4RPlus.org.

Images of the four farmers included in this press release are available for download: Michael Vittetoe, Dale Launstein, Kelly Nieuwenhuis and Julius Schaaf.