The Ottumwa Courier

Southeast Iowa

July 11, 2013

Keeping their dirt to themselves

BATAVIA — Iowa's chief farmer is hoping voters, environmentalists and his fellow farmers will understand how important erosion control is.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey was travelling through southeast Iowa Thursday, visiting farmers and others employed in agriculture. In rural Jefferson County, about five miles north of Batavia, Northey met a group at a farm owned by Dave Dickey and his family.

Below the group of farmers and ag specialists, five bulldozers tore into Dickey's property to build a type of pond that will keep erosion from eating away at his land — and from dumping valuable soil into a nearby stream. Various grants and funding sources help pay for part of the $30,000 project, though the farmer spends some of his own money, too.

"A big incentive to get it done," said the farm's operator, Steve Dallner, "is that I can borrow the 25 percent [we pay] at a real low interest rate."

As farmers learn more about erosion control, Northey said, interest in these projects has increased.

"I haven't had to do much 'selling,'" said Ryan Rasmussen, the Wapello County water and soil employee who coordinates the erosion control projects for three counties.

"So momentum builds when ... neighbors see what's being done," Northey noted.

He and Rasmussen said washing good soil into a creek is bad in two ways. The nutrients and organic matter in the soil lead to a chain of events that use up a huge amount of oxygen in various bodies of water. That damages natural resources, like fishing and shrimping operations. Secondly, farmers lose good soil.

"The best place for the nutrients is on the farmer's field," said Rasmussen.

Northey didn't get many answers when he asked how to get urban people involved. There's a misconception, they agreed, that city folk believe farmers are the ones causing all those nutrients to damage the waterways. But there's plenty of dangerous runoff from Iowa's cities, Northey said.

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