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December 2017 Newsletter 
North Central Region Water Network
Extension-led, community-driven outreach and education
Director's Update

Making Connections through Cover Crops

Indiana is ground zero for cover crop adoption in the US, which made Indianapolis a great place to host this year's
National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health. The Soil and Water Conservation Society and the Howard G. Buffet Foundation provided a valuable forum for many different voices to talk about revitalizing our soil, the continuous learning that we do in agriculture, and cover crops as one critical tool in our toolbox.

The North Central Region Soil Health Nexus met before the conference, making great strides on their research and outreach objectives. This land-grant led team will be conducting a multi-state soil health needs assessment early in 2018; watch for your opportunity to request research, outreach, and professional development products!

Kicking off the conference, David Montgomery reminded us just how wide and deep our soil degradation problems are. The next morning, Keith Berns told the story of carbon, soil, and our economy in a new way, hopefully opening the door for more of us to consider carbon, not as something to shy away from, but as more foundational to our economy than the dollars and cents we're used to measuring, saving, and spending.
There was a lot to learn and be inspired by in between - research on nitrogen management for crops and water quality; presentations about how cover crops pencil out in different farm operations; and economic opportunities for ag retailers and advisors.

Of all the thoughts and words exchanged during those two days, the ones I was most deeply moved by and curious about are those of farmers Dan DeSutter (Indiana), Trey Hill (Maryland) and Jimmy Emmons (Oklahoma). All three farmers have experienced the value of cover crops and healthy soils on improving their operations. They are all astute and successful businessmen, originally getting into cover crops and soil health for bottom-line reasons. They described their early forays into cover crops mechanistically, in terms of engineering, chemistry, and accounting. As they sat up on that stage in Indianapolis, they described how their thinking and practices evolved.  They talked about how they now are thinking more than ever before about the biology of their farm, how the organisms in the soil, the plants, animals, and people are in relationship and need to work together for the system to produce and to produce efficiently.

The window into how three people, three families, and three farming systems learned and adapted over time is priceless. Every farmer knows how complex their jobs are - how every thread they pull influences every other in ways that are sometimes difficult to predict.  Thanks again to these three for sharing not just how they're farming now, but the paths they took to get to where they are today. Hopefully, the more we share stories like these, the easier it will be for other farmers to restore our soil and maintaining our ability to grow food, fiber, and fuel for future generations.


Rebecca Power, Network Director

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2017 Network Milestones
As it nears the end of the year, we would like a take a moment and recognize the great work of our network initiatives. Each initiative is taking steps to ensure increased capacity, outreach, and education within our region in order to assure safe and sufficient water supplies for everyone.
Listed below are some of our network initiatives who had major milestones in 2017.  Read more about each of these initiatives and others on the Network Initiative page .
Building Collaboration Between State Land Grant Universities and Tribal Colleges and Universities in the North Central Region
With 20 Tribal Land-grant colleges and universities across the North Central Region, there are ample opportunities for collaboration on water-related issues.  In 2017, a team from state land-grants, tribal land-grants, and partners including the First Americans Land-grant Consortium (FALCON) hosted a summit to bridge communication and connections between diverse institutions. Six different tribal institutions, a number of state universities, and partner organizations attended and combined their perspectives to identify priority issues surrounding overlapping water issues. The team is now hard at work building on the opportunities discussed at the summit, developing a working group of diverse stakeholders and building action plans for the identified priorities.

Establishing an Aquatic Invasive Species Working Group for the North Central Region Water Network
The negative impacts of aquatic invasive species (AIS) on communities and aquatic ecosystems are well-documented, but many states outside the Great Lakes Basin lack both resources and engagement around this issue. This year, the North Central Region AIS working group hosted a Current Webinar on the impact of AIS in the region to combat these aquaculture problems. The team has also been working to conduct an audit on existing AIS programming as well as continuing to hold meetings that lead to collaborative discussions and workshops around resources, both new and existing.

Online Stormwater Core Curriculum: Enhancing Course Development
The North Central Region stormwater collaborative group is striving to establish a publicly-available, uniform, comprehensive stormwater core curriculum that is suitable for region-wide utilization. Last year, the team developed a five module course for stormwater professionals that is now available online. This year, the team built off their previous success by conducting a core course collaboration workshop to review existing materials and starting the process of integrating enhanced multi-media content to the stormwater courses.

Regional Climate Team: Providing the Foundation for Lasting Climate Education in the North Central Region
The regional climate team of the North Central Region Water Network is utilizing their diverse expertise to engineer education around agriculture, water, and climate in the region. Collectively, the team is working to inform and influence decision makers who manage agriculture and natural resources. Additionally, the team is striving to promote climate-smart practices with an eye towards water management while still maintaining profitability. The climate team met in April to launch their initiative and are working to bring their expertise together to create comprehensive resources for the region.

Soil Health Nexus: Improving Water Quality through Soil Science
The North Central Region Soil Health Nexus is dedicated to increasing soil-health related research, knowledge, extension and resources throughout the region. This year, the team created a website dedicated to soil health communication within the region, developed data briefs on the findings of critical soil health research, and gathered at the National Conference on Cover Crops to set the stage for 2018's work.  

Ten Ways to Reduce Nitrate Loss From Drained Lands: A Comprehensive Multimedia Outreach Package
There are a number of practices to help reduce nitrate loss on drained cropland, each with varying degrees of effectiveness, suitability, impacts, and cost. Last year, the nitrate reduction team finalized a comprehensive booklet focusing on the ten ways to reduce nitrogen loads and the benefits each practice yields. In 2017, the team has been busy sharing the Ten Ways booklet with stakeholders throughout the region and is in the process of creating a factsheet on the booklet to advance awareness surrounding their program.

Youth Water Education Needs Assessment: Determining the gaps in Youth Water Education in the North Central Region
The North Central Region youth working group is committed to increasing the number and quality of resources that educators and communities can use to support youth water education. The first step is to implement a comprehensive evaluation of the youth education programs already being conducted and compare those to the best practices available. The team is well on their way, and just this month submitted a survey to extension educators throughout the region to gather information on youth programming.


Leadership Spotlight

Each month we call attention to a significant state-led project and associated leadership within our Network. These spotlights demonstrate the diversity of ongoing water research and outreach projects in our region. Please contact your state's North Central Region Water Network Leadership Team member for details on the projects in your area. 

Telling the Story of Conservation in the Fox River Valley

Northeast Wisconsin is home to Green Bay, the world ' s largest freshwater estuary. The region is also responsible for 30 percent of the state ' s milk production. Historically, " big dairy " and " clean water " would have been viewed as the ultimate contradiction. However, there are six local producers who are working hard to implement conservation practices to reduce their impact on our shared water resources. They are the six participating farms in the Lower Fox Demonstration Farms Network (otherwise known as Fox Demo Farms). At the end of 2016, Whitney Passint, a Natural Resources Educator with UW-Extension, was brought on to tell the Fox Demo Farms story.
The Fox Demo Farms project is a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funded project, designed to demonstrate leading edge conservation practices that reduce sediment and phosphorus loading into the Fox River and bay of Green Bay. Since the project ' s inception in 2014, the producers have made great strides to improve soil health and water quality by planting cover crops and adopting no-till practices. Whitney's first task was to design and implement a comprehensive outreach plan that would reach the project ' s primary audience, producers in the Lower Fox River Watershed. 
To ensure maximum reach, Whitney's outreach plan utilized a wide range of media outlets, including traditional news outlets (i.e., radio and television), as well as modern technology (i.e., website, social media, mass text messaging services). During the 2017 growing season, the Fox Demo Farms teamed up with a local radio station to produce a semi-monthly segment, " Lessons Learned on the Fox Demo Farms ". The segments featured a farmer or other agricultural professional, who shared their experiences with a specific and timely topic. Partnering with Mike Austin, a trusted agricultural reporter, helped reach our target audience while bringing a sense of reliability to these practices.
Modern technology has allowed the Fox Demo Farms to communicate with a broad audience through social media and mass text messaging services. Through Facebook and Twitter, they have reached thousands of people with educational content and videos, which demonstrate the importance of conservation agriculture and how our producers are making it work on their land. One of the most effective ways to reach agricultural producers is via text message, which has led to the development of " Field Days on the Fly ".  More than 100 producers have signed on to their list to receive alerts about spontaneous field days.
Additionally, Fox Demo Farms initiated a watershed-wide effort to distribute field signs that promote cover crops and no-till practices, while linking these practices to clean water. The signs serve as a social norming tool encouraging neighboring farms to implement conservation practices on their land. Furthermore, they act as an educational tool for the community who may not recognize the actions that producers are taking to protect our local water resources. Building community support for conservation agriculture is an important element of the comprehensive outreach plan and one that we look forward to working on in the future.  

Whitney Passint, University of Wisconsin-Extension

Whitney Passint began working with UW-Extension in the fall of 2016. She earned her BS degree in Zoology and Environmental Studies from UW-Madison and her MS degree in Environmental Science and Policy from UW-Green Bay. Her background has been in social science and water quality outreach. She has thoroughly enjoyed working on the landscape to engage producers in conservation agriculture. In her spare time, Whitney enjoys camping in the north woods and snowy winters when she can cross-country ski. As a Wisconsin native, she of course loves to cheer on her beloved Badgers and Packers.

Seven Best Practices for Risk Communication Webinar
December 19th, 2017
NOAA's Office for Coastal Management will be hosting an online webinar on risk communication. T he interactive webinar introduces participants to seven best practices for risk communication, numerous risk communication techniques, and examples for communicating about coastal hazards. 

Purdue Top Farmer Conference
January 8-9, 2018
The Purdue Top Farmer Conference, now in its 50th year, is one of the most successful and longest-running programs geared specifically for farmers. The program features faculty and staff experts from Purdue's Center for Commercial Agriculture. The conference also includes sessions led by faculty from Kansas State University and leading industry experts. Surrounded by farm management, farm policy, agricultural finance and marketing experts, and a group of peers, the conference stimulates conversation about agriculture's future and how to position farms to be successful in the years ahead.  
Great Plains Fruit & Vegetable Growers Conference 
January 11-18, 2018
Great Plains Growers Conference (GPGC) is a three-day conference featuring presentations by knowledgeable speakers from throughout the nation. The conference showcases educational information from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, along with vegetable specialists and growers from those states. Some of the topics at the 2018 conference range from cover crops and soil health to mushrooms and honey bees.

Midwest Soil Health Summit
February 14-15, 2018
The Sustainable Farming Association will be holding the Midwest Soil Health Summit in February of next year to discuss the stories and science of soil health. Speakers range from  renowned  soil scientists to USDA soil health experts.  

Wisconsin Cover Crop Conference 
February 27, 2018
The 2018 Wisconsin Cover Crop Conference is a statewide event for farmers to hear from cover crop experts and experienced farmers about how to successfully integrate cover crops into Wisconsin's unique cropping rotations and climate.  

Do you know of an upcoming water or conservation event in the Midwest? Add it to the NCRWN website here
Funding and Other Opportunities
Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants Program (BRAG)
The purpose of the BRAG program is to support the generation of new information that will assist Federal regulatory agencies in making science-based decisions about the effects of introducing into the environment genetically engineered organisms (GE), including plants, microorganisms - such as fungi, bacteria, and viruses - arthropods, fish, birds, mammals and other animals excluding humans. Investigations of effects on both managed and natural environments are relevant. The BRAG program accomplishes its purpose by providing federal regulatory agencies with scientific information relevant to regulatory issues.

Letter of Intent due by December 21, 2017.  Learn more.

Industrial Reuse and Produced Water Reuse Research Request for Pre-Proposals
The Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF) is seeking pre-proposals for industrial and produced water reuse research. Proposers are invited to submit on topics consistent with WE&RF's mission to catalyze innovation through actionable research in water and the environment.  This research may cover a variety of industrial sectors including power generation, manufacturing, mining, oil and gas exploration, food and beverage, and other related sectors. Potential research topics may include, but are not limited to the following:
  • The beneficial use of treated municipal effluent for non-potable purposes in industrial operations
  • On-site reuse of industrial wastewater
  • On-site reuse of produced water from oil and gas exploration 
  • Reuse of industrial wastewater or produced water from oil and gas exploration for other purposes (e.g. agricultural irrigation)
  • Research on the economics of industrial water reuse and making the business case for water reuse
  • Exploring the energy/water nexus in industrial and produced water reuse
Pre-proposals due by January 18, 2018.  Learn more.

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP)
Beginning farmer education for adult and young audiences in the United States can generally be traced back to the advent of the 1862 and 1890 Morrill Land Grant Acts. But for the first time, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Pub .L. No. 110-234, Section 7410) appropriated $75 million for FY 2009 to FY 2012 to develop and offer education, training, outreach and mentoring programs to enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers. The Agriculture Act of 2014 provided an additional $20 million per year for 2014 through 2018. The reasons for the renewed interest in beginning farmer and rancher programs are as follows: the rising average age of U.S. farmers; the 8% projected decrease in the number of farmers and ranchers between 2008 and 2018; and the growing recognition that new programs are needed to address the needs of the next generation of beginning farmers and ranchers.  

Applications are due by February 8, 2018.  Learn more.

In Case You Missed it...

The Current  is a speed networking webinar series for professionals engaged in water-related extension, research, and conservation activities. The North Central Region Water Network and Extension Directors from all 12 North Central states sponsor this series to highlight the best water-related research and Extension programming in the region. Webinars run for 60 minutes, with 30-minute project snapshots and 30 minutes of QA/peer-to-peer interaction.

Most Recent Webinar: 

November 8, 2017, The Current 33: Conservation Practice Tracking for the Mississippi River Basin

This webinar provided an overview of conservation and water quality tracking across the Mississippi and Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB). Discussion focused on the overall need for tracking and what is being done on the state and regional level. Speakers included:
  • Katie Flahive, Agricultural Engineer, Clean Water Act Section 319 Nonpoint Source Management Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Julie Harrold, Program Manager Water Quality Initiatives, Division of Soil Conservation, Indiana State Department of Agriculture
  • Reid D. Christianson, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

USDA offers assistance to protect privately-owned wetlands, agricultural lands and grasslands
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) encourages people and groups wanting to protect critical wetlands, agricultural lands and grasslands to consider enrolling their property into conservation easements. This year, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) plans to invest $250 million in technical and financial assistance to help private landowners, tribes, land trusts and other groups protect these valuable lands. Learn more.

In search of soybeans resistant to the brown marmorated stink bug
The invasive brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys ) "will eat almost anything" and "attacks more than 170 different plant species," according to . Among those targets is soybean, the number-two crop in the United States. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service are working to identify soybean breeds that exhibit resistance to the pest. Learn more.

South Dakota harvest rebounds following drought conditions
U.S. agriculture officials say timely rain, additional acres planted and improved seed hybrids helped salvage South Dakota's harvest this year, despite the worst drought conditions in five years.  The drought hit some farmers harder than others, but the statewide picture is better than agricultural officials expected at mid-summer.  Learn more.

NCRWN Fact Sheet
Want to see what we have been up to in the North Central Region Water Network? Check out our fact sheet for more details. 

Our Mission:

We work together to expand and enhance multi-state water outreach and research efforts across the North Central Region of the United States.

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