By Dick Sloan
As the volunteer pilot provided by LightHawk guided his blue and white Cessna into the cold clear skies above Waterloo on the morning of Oct. 26, his five passengers gazed down on the Cedar River corridor. Our tour from Cedar Falls to Cedar Rapids and back again was organized to highlight the work of Earth Economics in pointing out the value that the natural areas of the Middle Cedar River provide Eastern Iowans.
As we looked at a river running at near-record, low-flow rates, we recalled the extent of the flood of 2008, the damages sustained and the recovery still in progress. We saw forested wetlands and floodplains that are mostly privately owned and some areas that are now managed by county conservation boards.
We talked of permeable paving and stormwater management progress, viewed prairie plots at the University of Northern Iowa aimed at learning how best to integrate native perennials into our landscape.
Still other areas of the flood plain are now uninhabited as we learned the need to avoid development in areas that cannot be protected. Damaged bridges that restricted the flood and made it worse in some areas have been replaced.
As I watched the Cedar wind through its tree-lined corridor, I remembered learning how this natural action increases capacity and dissipates energy as water flows downhill. I recalled visiting with people from outside our area and how they admired all of the woodlands and character of our river.
We could only imagine how much more damage the flood could have caused without these natural systems in place. To learn more about the developing field of ecosystem services, please visit EarthEconomics.org.
Iowa will never return to the vast prairies and network of wetlands it once was. More than 70 percent of the land draining into the Middle Cedar is producing valuable crops of corn and soybeans. Farmers are constantly learning to produce more with fewer inputs, learning to become more sustainable.
As a member of Practical Farmers of Iowa, I know that I grow more than crops and bring more than food to the table. By learning from soil scientists and my fellow farmers and applying their lessons in my fields, I help grow a healthier community and world.
With waterways, terraces and planting on the contour, I can slow water down and reduce its erosive power. With no-till, crop rotations and cover crops, I can build soil structure and organic matter to hold more water and nutrients in my soil. This helps us all in times of flood and improves my production in times of drought.
By maintaining grassed headlands, Conservation Reserve Program buffer strips along streams and prairie filter strips in my fields, I’m protecting my farmland and making it more absorbent as well as protecting our common environment and providing habitat for wildlife.
I believe that remaining open to questions and concerns from environmental groups creates the opportunity for discussion and increased knowledge for everyone. I believe farms can provide environmental services as well as crops for a growing world.
Dick Sloan of Rowley has farmed in Buchanan County for 35 years. He is president of Lime Creek Watershed Improvement Association, a steering committee member of Cedar River Watershed Coalition working with agricultural outreach, an assistant commissioner in Buchanan County Soil and Water Conservation District, and a member of Iowa Corn Growers, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Pork Producers Association, and Practical Farmers of Iowa. He also serve on the advisory board to the USDA-NIFA research project detailed at www.sustainablecorn.org and works with Iowa Learning Farms to promote conservation. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org