Iowa's Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioners along with conservation partner agencies will meet for the annual Conservation Partnership Day held at the State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 22. The theme of this year's event is "Conservation Partnerships: Ready for the future," and will include displays highlighting soil and water conservation efforts in each of the nine Conservation Districts of Iowa organizations' "CDI" regions across the state.
As a result of Iowa having high quality soil, adequate water resources and highly-skilled farmers, the state of Iowa continues to lead the nation in production of corn, soybeans, hogs and eggs. "It is vitally important that we continue to protect our soil and water to ensure the productivity of our land," says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. "Iowa must make it a priority to support conservation programs and staff to get practices on the land in order to maintain our quality of life and ensure our soils remain productive and healthy into the future."
The annual event is coordinated through partnership of the Conservation Districts of Iowa and the State Soil Conservation Committee, which advises the Iowa Department of Agriculture's soil conservation division on various policy issues. The details of the event are:
Who: Iowa's Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioners
Where: Iowa State Capitol, 1st Floor Rotunda
When: Tuesday, January 22, 2012; 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
What: An event to champion soil and water conservation in Iowa
More farmers in Iowa are interested in soil and water conservation practices
In related news last week, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission and the Iowa Natural Resources Commission held a joint meeting in Des Moines. The two panels are appointed by the governor and they advise the Iowa Department of Natural Resources on state environmental policy issues, including rules and regulations.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Iowa officials who testified before the two commissions on Wednesday were asked whether farmers are warming up to the idea that they need to do more soil and water conservation work on the land they farm, as outlined in the state's new plan for reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from farm fields. Generally, the answer is yes, farmers realize that to make this voluntary plan work, and avoid future regulations, they are going to have to show widespread participation.
Dean Lemke, who works on water quality issues for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, said he and others are already spreading the word about the state's Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which provides information about voluntary measures farmers can take to reduce runoff of soil and nutrients in Iowa that eventually get into the waters of the Mississippi River and ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. "Overall, this nutrient reduction plan has been well-received by farmers and landowners," says Lemke. "It does raise questions about the various management practices that are listed and explained in the report. People ask, 'How would I do this?'"
Farmers asking questions about Iowa's new voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy
The state ag department teamed with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State University researchers to write the plan, which was requested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The plan is part of an effort to address the hypoxia area or "dead zone" in the water in the Gulf of Mexico. Runoff from farm fields in the 12 states in the Mississippi River basin are the biggest contributors to the algae blooms that cause the lifeless area in the Gulf waters near the mouth of the Mississippi River. This "dead zone" hurts the commercial fishing and shrimping industry which is located in the Gulf of Mexico, a major supplier of fish and shrimp to U.S. consumers.
Iowa is the second state out of the 12 states that has completed and released its nutrient reduction strategy for public comment. Other states are also looking at the Iowa plan as a model to develop their own strategy for reducing water pollution.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Matt Helmers, an ag engineering professor at ISU who helped with the science review that is listed in the documents as part of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy report, was another one of the experts on hand to answer questions posed by the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission and Iowa Natural Resource Commission members. Helmers explained that the report was developed over two years and the strategy was released for public comment this past November. He said the plan has increased the discussion of soil and water conservation in the state.
Farmers are getting the message--if conservation practices are to remain voluntary, progress must be made in carrying out the nutrient reduction strategy
"There is a lot more interest now in soil and water conservation practices," observes Helmers. "There is a greater understanding that there is a need to show progress in protecting the soil and improving water quality."
One of the panel members asked whether the state is educating farmers on the environmental benefits of cover crops such as rye or other grasses or legume forages. Cover crops are planted after corn or soybeans are harvested in the fall to hold the soil in place over the winter and in early spring before corn and soybeans are again planted in the fields. Helmers said he and others are working with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Practical Farmers of Iowa and others to do that. There is an increased interest among farmers in planting cover crops—which hasn't been a widespread practice in Corn Belt states such as Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, etc.
Another panel member pointed out that farmers in other countries often grow two or three crops per year on a field. She suggested that perhaps state of Iowa officials in their educational efforts need to stress the economic benefits of planting cover crops, which could be harvested and used for biomass to produce electrical power or for use as a feedstock to make cellulosic ethanol.