In fiscal year 2018, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service obligated more than $63 million to Iowa farmers and landowners for conservation practices that will treat natural resource concerns on over 450,000 acres. The Iowa office of NRCS on Nov. 1 released a summary of its fiscal 2018 funding.
Iowa NRCS financial assistance programs include the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
Record-setting year for EQIP
Through EQIP, NRCS obligated a record $30 million through 1,414 contracts, treating 154,191 acres. Nearly one-third of Iowa’s EQIP funding went to grassland-based practices, such as watering facilities, fence and pipeline to support livestock grazing systems.
Kurt Simon, state conservationist for NRCS in Iowa, says his staff obligated 36% more EQIP funds than the prior five-year average. “Management practices that improve soil health and water quality, such as cover crops and no-till, are very popular in Iowa,” he notes. “There is also a lot of interest in our EQIP funding for organic agriculture, monarch butterflies and other pollinators, and on-farm energy improvement.”
In July, NRCS announced special EQIP funding to support livestock grazing systems in drought-stricken areas of southeast Iowa. Through the special funding, livestock producers signed 362 EQIP contracts totaling more than $3.6 million that will treat natural resource concerns on about 38,800 pasture acres.
The funding came at a crucial time for southern Iowa livestock producers. “Ponds were drying up and grazing conditions were worsening after consecutive years of low rainfall in that part of the state,” Simon says. “We felt if we could provide extra assistance for water well access and rotational grazing, it would help to improve forages and natural resource issues.”
Resource Conservation Partnership Program
In fiscal year 2018, Iowa NRCS obligated nearly $5 million through RCPP to treat natural resource concerns on 33,000 cropland acres. NRCS aided producers through RCPP partnership agreements and 235 contracts. There are 10 RCPP projects in Iowa.
The Midwest Ag Water Quality Project, led by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, is Iowa’s largest RCPP project covering five major watersheds. Through this project, NRCS obligated $3.4 million to Iowa farmers through 153 contracts treating about 28,000 cropland acres. Water quality practices, such as bioreactors, saturated buffers, cover crops, wetlands and no-till, are popular practices funded through this project.
Along with water quality projects, Iowa’s RCPP projects are helping to improve monarch butterfly habitat, soil health and forages for livestock grazing.
Conservation Stewardship Program
Iowa continues to be one of the nation’s leaders in CSP contracts. Iowa NRCS obligated about $28.5 million through new and renewed CSP contracts. In fiscal year 2018, 439 Iowa farmers signed new five-year CSP contracts helping to treat 233,522 acres. Another 59 farmers renewed their CSP contracts for five years, which will treat about 30,000 acres.
“CSP is an excellent program for many of our conservation-minded Iowa farmers,” Simon says. “CSP rewards these farmers for their historically solid conservation work and encourages them to take additional steps to improve conditions on the land.”
Integrated pest management, nutrient management and cover crops were the most popular practices Iowa farmers adopted through CSP, followed by conservation cover, no-till and conservation crop rotations.
“It is no coincidence that producers with stewardship program contracts are adopting practices that protect water quality and improve soil health,” Simon says. “These are farmers who care about their land and those living and farming downstream.”
Cover crops most popular practice
Across the state, cover crops were the most popular practice contracted by Iowa farmers in 2018 through NRCS financial assistance programs, with 314,822 acres scheduled to be planted through contracts that run up to five years.
Source: Iowa NRCS