Big demand for Iowa water quality cost-share funding continues

Big demand for Iowa water quality cost-share funding continues

Farmers are trying cover crops and other water quality practices, despite tough ag economy.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds held their weekly press conference at the Iowa State Fair earlier this week, and discussed the progress being made in water quality improvement efforts in Iowa. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey joined Branstad and Reynolds for the discussion.

The Iowa officials said $3.8 million in state cost-share funds has been allocated to help over 1,900 farmers install nutrient reduction practices in 97 counties this year. Practices eligible for this funding are cover crops, no-till or strip till, and using a nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer.

WATER QUALITY: In addition to signing up for $3.8 million in state cost-share funding this year for water quality practices, a total of 1,920 Iowa farmers have committed nearly $6 million of their own money to try cover crops, no-till, strip till or a nitrification inhibitor on their farms.

All of the $3.8 million for this year has now been obligated
“We announced on May 11 that the state cost-share program would be available again this year,” said Northey. “We urged farmers to apply. All of the $3.8 million for this year was spoken for by Monday, August 15. Since we started offering the statewide cost-share program in 2013 as an incentive to get farmers to participate in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, more than $10 million has been made available and over 5,000 farmers have participated. The $3.8 million was just this year’s sign up.”

While all of the $3.8 million in state cost-share funding for this year is now spoken for, “we still encourage farmers to talk to their local Soil and Water Conservation District office staff,” Northey adds. “Funds may be available through other programs to assist with cost-sharing for cover crops and other soil conservation and water quality improvement practices.”

State officials cite need for continued water quality funding
Branstad says the state cost-share program is successful in providing an incentive to get more farmers to invest in recommended water quality protection practices. But the program needs longer-term funding and an increase in the amount of funding available for more farmers to participate, rather than yearly appropriations which are uncertain and aren’t enough to meet the needs of all farmers who apply.

“We understand the importance of improving our state’s water quality,” says Branstad. “This summer, we’ve been traveling all over the state to see firsthand the more than 150 organizations and thousands of farmers who have been collaborating to improve the state’s water quality through use of the science-based Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. It’s evident that everyone has a role to play in improving our water quality and we look forward to water quality funding being a focal point of discussion in the upcoming 2017 legislative session.”

Farmers in cost-share program also contribute their own dollars
Reynolds says, “Iowans in both urban and rural areas of our state face challenges when we talk about our state’s water quality. However, as we’ve seen all over the state in the past few months, many Iowans are already taking steps to prevent nitrates and phosphorus from leaving our soil. I have no doubt that Iowans will continue to work together to find solutions to improve our water quality.” 

The over 1,900 farmers participating in the cost-share program this year includes 900 farmers using a practice for the first time and more than 1,000 past users who are trying cover crops again and are receiving a reduced-rate of cost share. As a result, the $3.8 million in state funds is being matched by nearly $6 million from Iowa farmers investing their own money to try these water quality practices.

Farmers are committed to action and are investing in water quality
“Farmers continue to take on the challenge of improving water quality and invest in practices focused on limiting nutrient loss. Even in a challenging time economically for agriculture, with today’s low crop prices and tight profit margins, we still have a record number of farmers participating and willing to put their own money toward using these soil and water conservation practices. Farmers are committed to action and willing to invest in improving and protecting water quality,” says Northey.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship received applications covering over 200,000 acres from more than 1,900 different farmers seeking to participate in the program this year. Farmers in 98 of the 100 Soil and Water Conservation Districts across the state signed up to participate.

About 900 of the farmers participating this year are first-timers
Participants include 900 farmers using a practice for the first time and more than 1,000 past users who are trying cover crops again and are receiving a reduced rate of cost-share. The first-time users cover 80,000 acres of cover crops; 4,800 acres of nitrification inhibitor; 6,600 acres of no-till and 1,900 acres of strip till. The past users will use cover crops on nearly 110,000 acres.

Farmers who are not already using the practice are eligible for a cost-share rate for cover crops of $25 per acre, $10 per acre for trying no-till or strip till and $3 per acre for using a nitrapyrin nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer. Farmers who had used cover crops in the past were eligible for $15 per acre in cost-share. Cost-share was only available on up to 160 acres. 

The Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship received $9.6 million from the Iowa Legislature for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative in fiscal 2017. These funds allow IDALS to continue to encourage the broad adoption of water quality practices through statewide cost-share assistance as well as more intensive work in targeted watersheds.

Background on Iowa Water Quality Initiative
The Iowa Water Quality Initiative was established in 2013 to help implement the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a collaborative research based approach to achieving a 45% reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus losses to Iowa waters. The strategy brings together both point sources, such as municipal wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities, and nonpoint sources, including farm fields and urban stormwater runoff, to address these issues.

The initiative seeks to harness the collective ability of both private and public resources and organizations to deliver a clear and consistent message to stakeholders to reduce nutrient loss and improve water quality.

In addition to statewide cost-share, there are also currently 45 existing demonstration projects located across the state to help implement and demonstrate water quality practices through the initiative. This includes 16 targeted watershed projects, seven projects focused on expanding the use and innovative delivery of water quality practices and 22 urban water quality demonstration projects. More than 100 organizations are participating in the projects. These partners will provide $19.31 million  to go with over $12 million in state funding going to these projects.

Nearly $350 million in state and federal funds have been directed to programs with water quality benefits in Iowa last year. This total does not include the cost-share amount farmers pay to match state and federal programs and funds spent to build practices built without government assistance.

More information about the initiative can be found at CleanWaterIowa.org

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