Ogle Recognized with Impact Award
In Fourth Year of IAWA Iowa Watershed Awards
AMES, IOWA – Erin Ogle, project coordinator for the Taylor County Water Quality Initiative (WQI) Project, was honored with the Impact Award from the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) during the fourth annual IAWA Iowa Watershed Awards program.
Ogle is honored alongside five watershed coordinators who are also receiving a 2021 IAWA Iowa Watershed Award. The recipients were announced at the 2021 Iowa Water Conference.
“In these challenging times, it’s important to recognize these unsung heroes who continue to make great progress implementing conservation practices that improve water quality,” says Sean McMahon, IAWA Executive Director. “These watershed coordinators have worked during a global pandemic to help meet local community goals while also simultaneously advancing the objectives of the statewide Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”
Countywide participation in protecting erodible acres and improving farm income
The goal of Ogle’s project is to seed down highly erodible cropland that have been farmed year after year, while promoting livestock grazing and crop rotations. These conservation practices are helping farmers increase profitability while improving soil health and water quality.
Today, at least one farmer in every township in the county is making these changes. Taylor County Cattlemen and Farm Bureau have promoted the project. The WQI also works with EFC Systems and its web-based Profit Zone Manager to compare the return on investment from planting crops on steep slopes to converting that hilly land to pasture, hay or enrolling it in a conservation program.
“The involvement we have seen since the start of the project has grown because the local groups truly want to have a say in what direction this project goes,” Ogle says. “They like the idea of having a program that helps the ‘small livestock man’.”
Over the past five years, the project has converted more than 3,330 marginal row crop acres to extended rotational seeding. Soil samples from those acres show that organic matter, soil health, and soil nutrients are increasing.
Ogle takes water samples from nine tile outlets. Analysis of water samples by the Iowa Soybean Association shows a decrease in nitrogen and phosphorus leaving those fields.
The dedication of producers to the project even during a global pandemic has been rewarding for Ogle. “We’re still moving forward and still making progress, even with Covid-19,” she states. “People do want to make these improvements, even with what is going on.”
Some of the producers in the project have never worked with public sector conservation programs before and are now considering cover crops and other practices, Ogle says.
Last September, Ogle and her farm group partners had to cancel a soil health field day. Instead, they used a website, social media, and newspapers to promote an entire week focused on soil health and cover crops. It included “Microbe Monday”, “No-Till Tuesday”, “Water Quality Wednesday”, “Think Cover Thursday”, and “Soil Fertility Friday.”
Even with offices closed to the public, Ogle was able to meet in the field with farmers and landowners.
One of her biggest challenges remains trying to reach landowners who live outside of the area, she says.
Still, Ogle, who grew up on a farm in northwest Missouri, considers herself fortunate to work in conservation in this southern Iowa county.
She earned a BS in Biological Systems Engineering at Kansas State University with an emphasis in Environmental Engineering.
“I didn’t think I’d be lucky enough to find a job like this,” she says. “It comes with working with people. It’s new goals for the county. It’s water quality and not every day is the same thing. It’s really fun.”
To help maintain momentum for this work, Ogle will receive funding through the IAWA Iowa Watershed Award to apply to the Taylor County WQI project as well as funding for her own professional development.
The IAWA Iowa Watershed Awards program was developed by IAWA in partnership with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Conservation Districts of Iowa, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
The Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) is increasing the pace and scale of farmer-led efforts to improve water quality in Iowa. Founded in 2014 by Iowa Corn, the Iowa Soybean Association, and the Iowa Pork Producers Association, IAWA is building public-private partnerships focused on implementing water quality solutions. Iowa farmers are actively engaged in various conservation efforts that improve water quality. Learn more at www.iowaagwateralliance.com.