South Dakota, Iowa soybean growers find common ground
South Dakota and Iowa have always been good neighbors. And now their soybean advocates are continuing the same tradition. Centering on water quality issues, the South Dakota Soybean Association hosted a forum Wednesday at Dakotafest in Mitchell, ...
South Dakota and Iowa have always been good neighbors. And now their soybean advocates are continuing the same tradition.
Centering on water quality issues, the South Dakota Soybean Association hosted a forum Wednesday at Dakotafest in Mitchell, featuring an environmental expert from its Iowa counterpart, which provided insight into issues in the Hawkeye State. That's where a lawsuit from a large water provider against drainage districts has made big news and has put the ag world on alert.
Roger Wolf, the director of environmental programs for the Iowa Soybean Association, spoke about the topic of water quality in Iowa, specifically a lawsuit involving the Des Moines Water Works, which provides drinking water to about 500,000 people near Des Moines. The lawsuit is against three counties in northwest Iowa, aiming to hold them responsible for high nitrate levels in the Raccoon River, which serves Des Moines Water Works. It is one of the first lawsuits in the U.S. filed by a water utility holding local officials responsible for pollution from farm drainage systems. The utility says it costs thousands of dollars per day to remove nitrates out of the incoming water to make it drinkable for users.
Wolf said it's key to find some middle ground in the matter, acknowledging that farmers do their part to retain nutrients, while also making sure that water utilities work for the people who are making use of the service for drinking water.
"I don't know of any farmer who wants to lose those nutrients, because you need those to be successful," he said. "Plus, farmers drink that water, too."
Agricultural and farming operations have long been considered non-point source operations under the Clean Water Act, different from point source operations, which have a clear source of where the pollution is coming from and are more heavily regulated.
He said Iowa farmers will have to do more, and some of those options include planting cover crops, using saturated buffers and installing bioreactors, which are excavated into the ground, redirecting tile water to an underground bed of woodchips that then removes the nitrates.
It's estimated Iowa would need 180,000 bioreactors-currently at $10,000 each-to solve some of their issues.
"The challenge for agriculture is how to achieve this higher level of performance on a voluntary basis," he said. "Our soils need the nutrients, and the waters can be improved, and that's the opportunity here."
South Dakota Soybean Association President John Horter, of Andover, said they brought in Wolf to speak in Mitchell because he believes it could be a cautionary tale of what could happen someday in South Dakota.
"We wanted to make people aware of what's going on, if they didn't know already," Horter said.
"We wanted to get people to think about what's going and work together and protect the land. That's our goal is to be stewards of the land."
Where South Dakota can help Iowa is in the development of cover crops, something that's not heavily done in the nearby state. Iowa has about 500,000 acres of cover crops planted each year and the state has 26 million acres of row crops planted each year. Wolf said it will take significantly more than that to make a difference in cutting down on the amount of nitrates.
"We have ideas, and they have ideas, and it's just a matter of sharing what we know to make each other better," Horter said.
Similar bioreactor projects are being done in South Dakota, with the state's soybean checkoff group, the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, helping to fund six sites in the eastern side of the state to try out bioreactors at sites such as Montrose, Baltic, Beresford and Arlington. Other state and federal agencies are helping to collect the data and see what the impact is with bioreactors.