Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Research Informs Technical and Financial Support to Apply Best Practices

With funds from the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Iowa Soybean Association’s Research Center for Farming Innovation will help farmers install bioreactors, wetlands, oxbows and seed cover crops in the North Racoon Watershed. Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association

By Laura Temple

Agronomic research demonstrates that best practices provide many conservation benefits. For example, cover crops reduce erosion and nutrient loss to protect soil health, and edge-of-field practices like buffers and bioreactors can improve water quality. That research also shows that changing practice requires appropriate corresponding adjustments to other aspects of crop management, like weed or insect control. 

To help farmers incorporate science-based, research-proven practices in their operations, governmental agencies like USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and other organizations often provide resources and assistance. That support often focuses just on the practice being implemented.

The Iowa Soybean Association’s Research Center for Farming Innovation fills gaps in support and helps farmers navigate assistance programs as part of its efforts to improve soybean productivity, profitability and sustainability. While deploying research to implement those practices with a whole agronomic system perspective, RCFI also leverages soy checkoff investments to build partnerships with organizations offering technical and financial assistance. 

“All agronomic solutions have some barriers to adoption,” says Joe McClure, director of research for the Iowa Soybean Association. “When making a change to their agronomic system, farmers absorb all the risk.”

He notes that it often takes years of experience for farmers to learn and improve how a specific practice works in specific fields. That practice could impact other factors, like seeding rate, pest pressure, weed control options and more.

“Our goal through RCFI is to de-risk farmers’ decisions to adopt new practices and shorten the learning curve for how a practice impacts their entire system,” he adds.

To do that, the RCFI works closely with research partners like Iowa State University, as well as partners offering financial and technical assistance, like NRCS. The RCFI team combines academic studies and their own on-farm research to develop insight into specific practices and their impact on overall soybean production. 

 “Armed with that real-world insight based on research, members of our conservation agronomist team walk interested farmers through the process of implementing a new practice,” says Roger Wolf, Iowa Soybean Association’s director of conservation. “That includes navigating the paperwork that accompanies financial assistance programs.”

McClure and Wolf work closely to integrate research with analytic insights to support conservation implementation. The combined expertise of their teams aids farmers in taking full advantage of programs designed to defray the costs and risks of implementing new practices. 

For example, the RCFI works with the NCRS Regional Conservation Partnership Program to lead a project focused on soil and water improvements in the North Racoon watershed in west central Iowa. Through the partnership, funds are available to help farmers adopt cover crops, develop oxbows, incorporate edge-of-field practices like bioreactors, and more. The RCFI team works with cooperating farmers through every step of implementing proven research for any of those practices.

“Positive conservation outcomes and long-term adoption of practices are more likely if farmers are set up for success,” Wolf says. “Our program strives to do just that.”

The RCFI has taken a similar approach to help farmers adopt practices to meet the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals for improving water quality. Future efforts will guide Iowa farmers as they learn about and then take advantage of practices to adapt to changing weather patterns. 

“Often, the soy checkoff funds exploratory research to build a case for specific approaches to conservation and production challenges,” McClure explains. “We go a step further, leveraging checkoff funds to take early research to a field and landscape scale, and then developing insights to increase adoption of successful approaches.”

McClure and Wolf note that grants offering assistance to farmers can be competitive and require matching funds. The checkoff provides both the research and the opportunity for matching that can be leveraged to secure grants. 

“It takes time for farmers to tackle conservation challenges,” Wolf adds. “We are standing with them to make it faster and more efficient and effective for them to successfully apply proven research in their operations.”

For more information about these tools, funded in part by the soy checkoff, visit

Published: Jul 24, 2023