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Farm Bureau rainfall simulator an innovative way to view conservation practices first hand

  • Randy Matthews, with Floyd County Farm Bureau, shows how a rain simulator works on Friday in Charles City at the Party in the Park. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Carolyn Marth, with Floyd County Farm Bureau, helps the public learn more about water quality at the Party in the Park in Charles City on Friday. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

By Kelly Terpstra,

It’s hard to predict the rain. But to simulate it, no problem.

That’s exactly what the Floyd County Farm Bureau and Iowa BIG North teamed up to do.

The organizations banded together to create a rainfall simulator that shows the public how different methods of conservation practices by farmers affect the soil.

The simulator showcases three different types of soil and a concrete street with permeable pavers underneath it in the small, rectangular sections that were on display at last Friday’s Party in the Park in Charles City.

The effect of water saturating farm land with cover crops, as well as intense and minimum tillage, was visible to the eye. The erosion that the simulator produced is easy to discern in person. Water collected in jars underneath the cross sections showed the amount of runoff each soil situation produced.

Jay Matthews, a Floyd County Farm Bureau board member, explained how the simulator is set up.

“There’s a pump that runs to these spray heads that looks like rain. You can see how much runs off the surface. It’s also designed so these lower ones act like tile line in the field so you see what the water looks like after it’s been filtered through the soil,” he said.

The simulator is just one teaching tool of the Iowa Farm Bureau Conservation Counts – a program to help improve the state’s water quality.

“It can be used not only to help teach farmers what they can gain with these practices, but also the general community as a whole and what farmers are already doing,” said Matthews. “When other people hear about cover crops, they can actually see why we’re doing it.”

Matthews said the simulator wasn’t working on Friday night.

“It was supposed to be running, but we couldn’t get quite enough power,” he said.

Water quality information was also present for interested parties to read at the Farm Bureau booth and trailer that was set up on Kelly Street near the south side of the downtown square.

“It all kind of ties together,” said Matthews.

The trailer that hauls the simulator was built by Iowa BIG North students over the last two years. Iowa BIG North also helped construct the simulator.

The goal is to be able to have the students use the trailer to teach others at events all across Floyd County and the surrounding area. Farm Bureau approached Iowa BIG North about the projects.

“The kids have done a great job,” said Matthews. “Iowa BIG North is really about the kids’ passion. They decide if they want to sign on and do it.”

Iowa BIG North is a partnership including the Charles City, New Hampton, Osage, and RRMR school districts out of North Iowa. The goal of Iowa BIG North is to engage students in initiative based learning in which they work with business partners from each community, and each other, in order to solve authentic problems and gain long lasting skills.

According to the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development’s Conservation Practices in Iowa, Iowa farmers have planted more than a half million acres of cover crops. That prevents, on average, roughly 30 percent each of nitrates and phosphorus from reaching surface water.

Iowa farmers have invested as much as $2.2 billion in conservation practices over the last decade.