Reports on completed research available for Leopold Center projects

November 2, 2016

Summaries of five recently completed research projects are now available from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. The projects were funded by the Leopold Center’s long-running Competitive Grants Program.

Management and performance of Iowa cover crops (E2014-02): This grant project is a continuation of a study on the long-term impact that a cereal rye cover crop has on cash crop yields. Led by Iowa Learning Farms (ILF), the project monitored 12 sites across the state on private farms in corn-soybean rotations. The farmer partners established and maintained replicated areas in their crop fields with and without cover crops. They have found that the rye cover crop does not reduce yield for corn and soybeans, and in some cases, even improved soybean yields. The project originally began in 2008 in conjunction with ILF, the State Soil Conservation Committee, and Practical Farmers of Iowa.

A smartphone-based device for measuring soil organic matter (E2014-11): Iowa State University (ISU) Electrical and Computer Engineering assistant professor Meng Lu was searching for a simpler way to analyze soil organic matter (SOM) in-field and one that could be used easily by producers. He developed a spectral analyzer application for a smartphone to collect light reflections from the soil as an indicator of SOM.  Lu found that the measurements were inconclusive and further development is needed for processing soil samples prior to taking the spectral measurements.

Increasing the capacity of a local food hub to service the public school market (M2014-09): ISU Extension and Outreach regional program coordinator Teresa Wiemerslage studied whether K-12 schools would be viable food markets for Iowa farmers. She worked with Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative and the Iowa Food Hub to find the best ways schools could order, receive, and process fresh or frozen food from a regional food hub. Results showed that by partnering with a food hub, school purchases of local food grew significantly and schools can become valued customers for farmers.

Budgeting for organic dairying (XP2015-05): ISU Extension and Outreach dairy specialist Larry Tranel created Excel spreadsheet budgets for nine different systems of organic dairy production, such as: “no grain feeding, 6,000 lb. rolling herd average (RHA); feeding pasture, hay, corn, silage corn, 12,000 lb. RHA; and pasture, hay, corn silage, corn, 15,000 lb. RHA, for example. The budget spreadsheets and user guide can be found on the ISU Extension and Outreach website:

Watershed Stories: Grassroots efforts in Iowa’s Raccoon River Watershed (PSP2015-01): This special project was funded through the Leopold Center’s Policy Initiative. Led by ISU sociology professor Betty Wells, and Angie Carter at Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill., the pair used Photovoice, a technique to create dialogue through photography. They met with women landowners in the Raccoon River Watershed and six agreed to share their perspectives of the watershed through their personal photographs. The goal is to begin dialogue about the importance of land and water where we live using the medium of photography to start the conversation. Their photos debuted at a reception in Perry in June and will be on display at other Iowa events over the next year.

Each of these research grant projects is summarized in a final report that explains what researchers have learned.  These reports, as well as all previous project reports, are available for free through the Iowa State University Digital Repository:

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture was established in 1987 through the Iowa Groundwater Protection Act. It is a research and education center at Iowa State University created to identify and reduce negative farming impacts and to develop new ways to farm profitably while conserving natural resources. The Center’s competitive grants program awards funds to researchers and investigators across Iowa, extending nearly 600 competitive grants since 1988. For more information about the Leopold Center, visit the website: