FAQ: I'm interested in signing up some flood-prone farmland in one of the NRCS long-term easement programs. Which program should I be looking at in Iowa?
Answer: Provided by Larry Beeler, assistant state conservationist for programs, at state office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Des Moines.
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service purchased conservation easements valued at more than $50 million covering 16,000 acres in fiscal year 2010 through three Iowa NRCS easement programs. They are the Wetlands Reserve Program or WRP, the Emergency Watershed Protection-Floodplain Easement Program or EWP–FPE, and the Grassland Reserve Program or GRP.
Wetlands Reserve Program: Since 1992, landowners have voluntarily placed their land into permanent easements to be protected, enhanced and restored to wetlands through the Wetlands Reserve Program or WRP. Since October 2009, Iowa NRCS funded the purchase of 32 contracts totaling 3,539 acres at a value of $11,171,789. The NRCS goal is to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat, on every acre enrolled in the program.
Monona County in western Iowa led the state with five WRP contracts covering 361 acres at a value of $1.1 million in fiscal 2010. Winnebago County in northern Iowa had four contracts covering 296 acres at an easement value of $890,000, and Butler County finished with three contracts covering 486 acres at an easement value of $1.6 million.
Emergency Watershed Protection-Floodplain Easement Program: In response to the 2008 Floods, Iowans with agricultural land in floodplains prone to flooding were provided an opportunity to place that land into a permanent easement through this program. Since October 2009 Iowa NRCS has reserved funding for 119 floodplain easements covering 11,651 acres with an easement value of $38.6 million. Benefits of this program include reducing flood impacts downstream, improving wildlife habitat, reducing long-term federal disaster assistance and reducing soil erosion.
Bremer County placed 11 floodplains into permanent vegetative easements, covering 888 acres at a value of about $3 million in fiscal year 2010. Lucas County in southern Iowa finished with six easements covering 993 acres at a value of just more than $3 million, and Muscatine County placed 10 floodplains into permanent easements on 1,315 acres at a value of $2.9 million.
Grassland Reserve Program. The Grassland Reserve Program is a voluntary USDA program that helps landowners and operators protect working grasslands, including hayland, pastureland, native grasslands, and certain other lands using rental contracts or conservation easements. Since October 2009, Iowa NRCS funded the purchase of 10 GRP contracts in the state covering 1,130 acres at a total value of $656,000.
Ringgold County in southern Iowa had four contracts covering 470 acres at a value of $311,000 in fiscal year 2010. Guthrie and Monona Counties in the western part of the state each finished with two contracts.
For more details about these and other conservation programs offered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Iowa, visit www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov.