By Jason Johnson
NOTE: Jason Johnson is a public affairs specialist with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Des Moines.
Iowa ranks among national leaders in Farm Bill contracts awarded to farmers and landowners, according to a recent report released by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The report highlights the value of public-private conservation efforts and record conservation results achieved by farmers, private landowners and USDA since 2009.
"This report demonstrates the commitment of Iowa producers to conserve the natural resources on their farms," says Jay Mar, state conservationist for USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Iowa. "With pressures growing to produce more crops on the same or fewer acres, we need to emphasize sustainable agriculture for future generations."
EQIP: From 2009 to 2012 Iowa ranked fourth nationally for number of Environmental Quality Incentives Program or EQIP contracts, with 5,364. During that span, NRCS helped farmers treat about 440,000 acres with conservation practices such as cover crops, nutrient management, livestock waste facilities, terraces, grassed waterways, and rotational grazing systems. Iowa NRCS provided nearly $92 million in financial assistance to farmers to plan and install these practices. Only Texas, California and Mississippi awarded more EQIP contracts during that time span than Iowa.
NRCS offers financial and technical assistance to install or implement structural, vegetative and management practices on eligible agricultural land through EQIP – the nation's most popular conservation program.
CSP: NRCS began accepting applications for the Conservation Stewardship or CSP in 2010, awarding farmers for existing conservation success and encouraging additional conservation performance through practice enhancements. Since the program's inception, Iowa ranks third in the nation for the number of CSP contracts with 2,745 – trailing only Minnesota and Missouri. In fact, these three states each awarded more CSP contracts than the lowest 21 states combined.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Through CSP, Iowans treated nearly 1.5 million acres with conservation practices such as no-till to reduce soil erosion, cover crops to scavenge residual nitrogen, and split nitrogen applications to reduce nutrient runoff. Iowa NRCS obligated more than $38 million to farmers from 2010 to 2012 through CSP.
CRP: Between 2009 and 2012, Iowa ranked first in the nation for the number of contracts through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Administered by the USDA's Farm Service Agency, Iowa landowners signed 39,148 CRP contracts covering 549,729 acres. This program pays landowners an annual rental payment for agreeing to remove sensitive land from agricultural production and planting species that improve environmental health and quality.
Contracts for land enrolled in CRP are 10 to 15 years. Practices could include planting native vegetation throughout an entire field, installing a filter strip to buffer cropland from a stream, or installing a wetland or pond for environmental protection.
WRP: Iowa ranked ninth for the most new wetland easement contracts in the same four-year span, with 169, through the Wetlands Reserve Program or WRP. Private landowners restore, protect and/or enhance wetlands on their property through WRP. The new wetland easements cover 15,710 acres at a federal cost of nearly $59 million.
Wetlands provide wildlife habitat, improve water quality, reduce flooding, recharge groundwater, and protect biological diversity. WRP can often relieve the burden of trying to farm marginal lands, providing an economic gain through a conservation easement.
GRP: With 27 contracts, Iowa ranked fifth in the nation for number of new Grassland Reserve Program or GRP contracts between 2009 and 2012. Through GRP, landowners voluntarily use a rental contract or conservation easement to protect working grasslands, including hayland, pastureland or native grasslands. For information about conservation programs in Iowa, visit the NRCS website.