Iowa Nutrient Research & Education Council (INREC) and Iowa State University (ISU)’s Department of Agronomy, with support from Google.org, are bringing together more than 30 farmers, crop advisors, scientists and other agricultural stakeholders for a three-day event to design a new decision-support tool that supports nitrogen fertilizer rate decisions. The event comes after a $250,000 grant from Google.org in 2022 to bolster INREC’s water quality improvement initiatives and support Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
“Iowa farmers depend on the best science when making decisions about crop inputs and the Iowa Nitrogen Initiative will deliver valuable data and recommendations from experts at Iowa State University,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “I commend Google.org, INREC, and Iowa State University for collaborating directly with farmers on the design of a tool that will help Iowa farmers maximize profitability and protect our soil and water.”
Iowa is home to the most productive cropland in the world, producing one-eleventh of the nation’s food supply and is the largest producer of corn, pork and eggs. As an industry that’s constantly evolving, INREC works to measure and demonstrate environmental progress in Iowa farming practices, foster innovation and development of new environmental technologies to reduce nutrient losses, and enhance dedicated outreach and education to assist Iowa farmers in achieving environmental goals.
Iowa farmers are always looking for more innovative tools and resources to revolutionize nutrient management and conservation. “Nitrogen fertilizer is one of the most expensive inputs for crop production, but there is great uncertainty about optimum rates due to varying field conditions from field-to-field and year-to-year,” said Ben Gleason, Executive Director of INREC. “Farmers today have few tools to reduce this uncertainty, which creates economic risk.”
A team of 10 Google employees, with design and engineering expertise, are volunteering their time to plan and facilitate the design sprint as part of a Google.org program that provides technical expertise to support nonprofits and civic entities.
“We are proud to build on our partnership with INREC and the farming community in Iowa,” said Dan Harbeke, Regional Head of External Affairs for Google. “Google.org’s pro bono initiatives offer an incredible opportunity for us to collaborate with the experts on innovative solutions that will support the agriculture industry’s growth in the state.”
A design sprint is a proven methodology for answering complex questions rapidly through designing, prototyping, and testing ideas with users. Sprints are designed to iterate and validate rapidly. Attendees will complete a series of drawing and writing activities to brainstorm new ideas before deciding on the most favorable prototype. By brainstorming, running ideas by product teams (UX/PM/ENG) and end users (farmers and farm advisors) in real time, the process makes sure that the tool is designed in a way that is both useful to farmers and possible to build within one year.
By the end of the event, INREC and ISU will have a prototype for a decision-support tool to reduce uncertainty around the optimum rate of nitrogen fertilizer application for Iowa’s nearly 85,000 farming operations, improving productivity, profitability, and environmental performance and contributing to the state’s goal of reducing nitrogen loss by 45%.
ABOUT IOWA NUTRIENT RESEARCH & EDUCATIONAL COUNCIL (INREC)
INREC is the only organization in Iowa that strategically brings together major farm & commodity organizations, major fertilizer and crop production companies, agricultural retailers, and crop advisers in a formal organization to help lead the environmental efforts of agriculture in Iowa. INREC has three core missions focused on:
1. Measuring and demonstrating environmental progress
2. Fostering innovation and development of new environmental technologies scientifically validated to reduce nutrient losses
3. Dedicated outreach & education to assist Iowa farmers in achieving environmental goals
ABOUT IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY’S DEPARTMENT OF AGRONOMY
ISU’s Department of Agronomy is applying science to advance crop production systems while protecting and improving air, soil, and water quality. We focus on new and improved ways of agriculture, including:
New methods of conservation
Improved soil health
New approaches to bioenergy
Improved water quality
Advanced genetic traits
The end goal is to produce food, fuel, and fiber in more efficient and economical ways for the benefit of people and the environment around the world.