State funding to provide more cost-share money for water quality protection in Iowa was in the news big-time last week. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed legislation that makes $282 million available for water quality programs over the next 12 years.
The bill, Senate File 512, provides long-term dedicated state funding to support farmers’ efforts to put conservation and water quality practices on the land.
The money comes from an existing tax on metered drinking water, which currently flows into the state’s general fund. Some of the money will also come from gambling revenue used to pay off bonds and flow into the state’s building and infrastructure fund. The bill establishes a water quality infrastructure fund within the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. That fund will be used to support conservation practices on ag land, including wetlands, bioreactors, saturated buffers, terraces and grass waterways.
Funding still falls short
The bill also creates a revolving fund through the Treasurer’s Office, focused on water quality initiatives for cities and utilities. Of the $282 million, $156 million is funding for agricultural water quality practices and $126 million is for urban efforts. The $282 million is way short of an estimated $4 billion to $6 billion it will take to meet the state’s goal of reducing by 45% the nitrogen and phosphorous levels in Iowa lakes, streams and rivers — as called for in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
Over a dozen leaders and other members of the Iowa Corn Growers Association attended the bill signing ceremony in the governor’s office at the state Capitol.
“We thank Iowa lawmakers and Gov. Reynolds for ensuring this stable funding source. It is absolutely critical in encouraging continued collaboration in the water quality protection effort across the state,” says Mark Recker, president of Iowa Corn, who farms at Arlington in northeast Iowa.
Water practices improve soil health
Also last week, an Iowa Corn Farmer-to-Farmer Panel discussion on soil health, water quality and soil conservation issues was held on two of the three days at the 2018 Iowa Power Farming Show in Des Moines. Farmer-led discussions on these issues are happening across Iowa.
“As farmers, we want to do our part,” Recker says. “I see it at every farmer event I attend: a strong desire by farmers to want to adopt conservation practices and to share with one another technical knowledge and key learnings. We are working with experts and scientists to use the latest technology and data in determining best practices. We’re taking on the challenge of making continuous improvements in preserving the water and soil on our farms. As we go forward together, we will take what we learn and adapt what we do to the conditions on our farms.”
Sharing ideas, information
The two panel discussions at the Power Farming Show had different farmers on the panel each day. All six panelists are participating in the Soil Health Partnership and two of them also work as agronomists for the SHP, advising SHP participants. The panelists described what they’ve learned by growing cover crops and using no-till and other water-quality protection practices. The SHP program began several years ago and has grown with new farmers participating each year.
Also, to help continue the conversation on soil health and water quality, ICGA has the Iowa Corn Stewardship Advocates program. Exclusive to ICGA members, the program gives them an opportunity to stay up to date with hot topics, news events, and upcoming activities that are most relevant to their farming operation.
Iowa Corn promotes cover crops
During the panel discussions it was explained by the two SHP agronomists what ICGA is currently doing to help educate farmers about soil health and water quality protection practices, and to find answers to farmers’ questions. Here’s what ICGA is currently offering in terms of programs to encourage more farmers and landowners to use cover crops and other water quality practices:
• Investing in the Soil Health Partnership (SHP). This is a farmer-led initiative of the National Corn Growers Association working to quantify the benefits of farming practices that support soil health from an economic as well as an environmental standpoint. With more than 100 working farms enrolled in the program in 12 states, including almost 30 in Iowa, SHP tests and measures farm management practices that improve soil health and benefit farmers.
• Creating the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA). In 2014 IAWA was created as a three-way partnership by Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and Iowa Pork Producers Association. The IAWA works in priority watersheds in the state providing funding, outreach guidance, watershed planning and conservation expertise.
• Supporting Iowa Nutrient Research & Education Council (INREC). This group proactively supports the adoption of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy by bringing together nearly every segment of Iowa’s ag industry to help lead environmental efforts related to water quality. INREC is leveraging private investments to work with Iowa State University on multiple efforts to measure progress in conservation adoption and water quality improvement.
• Proactively communicating. Using various avenues, Iowa Corn is informing the public about the positive steps farmers are taking to implement water quality protection practices on farms. For more information visit iowacorn.org/water.