If you drove around my area of Iowa prior to the last snowfall, you probably observed a fair amount of “snirt” on the edges of fields and in the ditches by the roads. If you're not from around here or you are not a person who periodically drives in rural areas where row crop fields are the predominant feature in the landscape, you might not know what snirt is. Snirt is snow intermixed with topsoil – an indication that wind erosion has taken place.
Snow is, of course, typically thought to be white in color. But, that's not true if a fair amount of dirt came for the ride as the wind blew across acre upon acre of flat ground that has very little for windbreaks or groundcover.
Today's snirt is on our farm, in part, because of the words of Earl Butz, Secretary of Agriculture for Richard M. Nixon. Butz called upon farmers in the United States to “plant from fencerow to fencerow” and encouraged individual farms to “get big or get out.” His declaration in 1973 did not mark the beginning of snirt in Iowa and other locations. It merely emphasized a style of agriculture that has little regard for diversity and natural processes – a style that was already gaining steam, especially after World War II.
As a matter of fact, the problem surfaced as Europeans moved west across the American continent and were insistent on adapting the land to their agriculture versus adapting their agriculture to the land.
Before you think that I will now make the claim that I know the best way to be a steward of the land without a shadow of a doubt, let me disabuse you of that notion. I am fully aware that I do not have all of the answers. All I know is that I am dedicated to doing my best to be a good steward that listens to the land. That means I make the best decisions and take the best actions I can with what I know in each moment, and then I make adjustments as I learn more.
There are, however, some things I do have a pretty good idea about. For example, all of the "recreational tillage" so many land operators partook of this fall has resulted in places like ours collecting a batch of their top soil. It is pretty well known that excessive tillage in abnormally dry to drought conditions is a bad idea. And, if you don't believe me, here is some information from Iowa State University that gives you some reasons why this is the case.
Most of the state still looks pretty colorful on the January drought monitor.
The land at our farm is capturing much of its snow, despite the wind. I think that's great because we want to replenish the soil moisture. Snow, water filtration, and freeze/unfreeze cycles are all part of the natural processes we rely on to help keep our soil healthy. We're also importing a fair amount of snow and dirt because others are apparently refusing delivery.
Maybe Earl Butz was mistaken that we need to till it all up.
Or perhaps I shouldn't say anything so I can keep collecting everyone else's top soil?
IFU 2023 Lobby Day
On Wednesday, February 8, you are invited to join Iowa Farmers Union members to lobby state legislators on key farming issues. The event begins at 10 am with a session that will provide policy updates and issue discussions. Interested persons will meet at the Iowa Utilities Building at 1375 Court Avenue in Des Moines. A free lunch will be provided. After lunch, we will take the short walk to the capitol building to begin lobbying.
If you have never lobbied before, training will be provided and new participants will be paired with experienced members.
Registration is required to facilitate planning by IFU staff. To register, please take this link.
Pesticides and Climate Change Report
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today. Scientific evidence indicates that pesticides contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions while also making our agricultural systems more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. However, the reduction of synthetic pesticide use has been omitted from climate change solutions, and synthetic pesticide use is even presented as a climate change mitigation strategy by industrial agriculture interests.
I had the opportunity to participate in the creation of PAN’s new report, Pesticides and Climate Change : A Vicious Cycle. In addition to serving as first reader, I was asked to participate as a speaker in the second session of the webinar where this report was introduced. I was honored to participate and spread the word – science is showing us that chemical-based farming is not a long-term solution, but agroecology gives us a useful framework for a healthy future.
Versions of this report in English, Spanish and French can be downloaded if you would like to learn more. We will share the link to the webinar recordings in a future Iowa News.
Other opportunities of note
- The 2023 Iowa Specialty Producers Conference is scheduled for February 21-23 at the FFA Enrichment Center in Ankeny. I am honored to be included among those who will hold a session at this conference, presenting on intercropping techniques. More information and registration can be found here.
- Stefanie Steele and Akello Karamoko will discuss the role of pollinators in urban landscapes and will share examples of projects to add native habitat in these spaces. This webinar will occur on January 31 at noon. You can register for “Creating Space for Pollinator and Beneficial Insect Habitat on Small Urban Farms” at this location.
- Larry Steinbronn, an organic farmer from Waverly, will share his personal experience of how he handled glyphosate drift claims and the successful outcomes. He will also address the role of Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) in drift cases, lab testing options, and guidelines, methods, and new technologies for documenting damage and loss. This webinar is sponsored by the Iowa Organic Association and will also occur on Tuesday, January 31 at noon. You may RSVP here to participate.
- Iowa Organic Association has provided access to an earlier webinar featuring Dr. Charles Benbrook titled Dicamba and Glyphosate Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessments. You may view the webinar in its entirety on IOA’s Youtube channel.
More written words for you
While it has been a while since you received an Iowa News, I, and my compatriots at PAN, have been producing articles that might interest you. For example, if you don’t think you can come to the conference and hear me talk about intercropping, you could read about it here. Or, if you have not yet had enough of me and my writing, you can see where I get encouragement for a new year.
Thank you for being willing to consider my thoughts and words. Be well,
Communications Manager for PAN
Owner/Operator, Genuine Faux Farm, Tripoli, IA