Izaak Walton League meeting reviews programs, progress

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Clarinda farmer Seth Watkins, right, discussed his sustainable farming operation at the April meeting of the Des Moines Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, chaired by the chapter's past president, Mike Delaney, left.


The Des Moines Chapter of Izaak Walton League of America — “the Ikes” — met April 10 for an update on the national organization’s project, the Upper Mississippi River Initiative (UMRI), a collaborative, grassroots effort to better understand degraded water systems and pursue actions to improve the quality of our nation’s waterways.

The UMWI project involves the Ikes chapters in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.


Mike Delaney of Des Moines, past president of the Des Moines Chapter, chaired the meeting, which included presentations by several visiting Ikes.

David Zenter, past president of the National Izaak Walton League of America, gave an overview of the club’s goals and activities. He said the Ikes were working to bring together members of the agriculture community, rural residents and city dwellers in a collaborative effort to clean up waterways and preserve topsoil.

Zenter encouraged the members of the 46 Iowa Ikes chapters to get more involved in the club’s national programs, and he stressed the need for the Izaak Walton League to work with other environmental groups and hunting and fishing organizations to develop a unified approach to bring about a better environment for everyone.

Other visiting Ikes were Larry Dolphin and Bill Buckley, two Ikes from the Austin, Minn., area, who described their club’s water testing project in the Cedar River in Mower County, Minn. They said their tests were motivated by the river’s excessively high e-coli bacteria levels.

Dolphin and Buckley said they performed standard chemical testing as well as DNA testing of the bacteria and were surprised by their results. They found higher levels of human fecal contamination in the water than of pigs and cows. These findings led to a campaign for Minnesota residents to reduce their septic discharges and make needed changes in the laws regarding residential septic sewer systems.

Dr. Richard Cruse, Iowa State University agronomy professor and director of the Iowa Water Center, spoke to the assembled Ikes about soil erosion. Cruse said Iowa’s topsoil is today being lost at a rate 10 times faster that it is being formed, a loss rate that is unsustainable.

The average soil loss rate is 5.8 tons per acre, Cruse said, and as more topsoil is lost, a decline in crop yields will follow. At the same time, he said, farmers will need to grow more grain and produce more meat in the next 50 years in order to meet the needs of the world’s increasing population. Only by conserving soil and water will we be able to sustain a healthy environment, he said.

Seth Watkins, a farmer and rancher from rural Clarinda, Iowa, told the Ikes about his farming practices. He moved from a production-based farming system to a method of farming that preserves natural resources.

Watkins said he uses many conservation practices on his 3,300 acre operation, such as buffer strips, grassed waterways, cover crops, prairie strips, crop rotation and rotational grazing for his cattle.

The ponds on his property are fenced so the cattle cannot get in the water to pollute it or destroy the banks. The cows drink from a separate water source. He has also delayed his calving time by a four to six weeks because it causes less stress on the cow and calf.

Watkins said he is concerned about the environment and his neighbors. He wants to do all he can to provide the public with a healthy environment, and he feels he has a responsibility to taxpayers because of the subsidies he receives.

Watkins said agricultural chemicals have a detrimental effect on human health, and he noted that Page County has the highest cancer rate of any county in Iowa. He said his own children have some health issues caused by unexplainable genetic problems.

For more information about Seth Watkins and his farming practices, watch his Youtube video called, “Healthy Farms, Cleaner Water.” For more information about the Izaak Walton League’s Upper Mississippi River Initiative, visit the Iowa Ikes website.

Ray Harden is member of the Panora chapter of the Izaak Walton League.

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