USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service provided more than $53 million in financial assistance for environmental improvements to Iowa agricultural producers in fiscal year 2011.
The popular Environmental Quality Incentives Program led the way with more than $25 million in funding, an increase of more than $4 million from 2010. This funding included 1,212 contracts treating 99,074 across the state. EQIP provides farmers assistance to install conservation practices such as terraces, grassed waterways, waste storage facilities, prescribed grazing, and nutrient and pest management. Currently there is a backlog of 2,700 unfunded Iowa EQIP applications worth $62 million.
Historically underserved farmers, groups who have not participated in or have received limited benefits from USDA programs, including socially disadvantaged, beginning farmers and limited resource producers, received about 20% of this funding. These individuals are eligible for higher payment rates on conservation practices.
EQIP contracts included two initiatives: the Organic Initiative and the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative. Nearly $1.3 million was allocated to Iowa farmers installing conservation practices going through the organic transition or certification process. And NRCS used more than $6 million to assist producers in selected watersheds to implement conservation practices that avoid, control and trap nutrient runoff; improve wildlife habitat; and maintain agricultural productivity through the MRBI.
Iowa NRCS assisted landowners through several other farm bill programs:
* Conservation Stewardship Program: Iowa NRCS obligated about $10.5 million to Iowa farmers covering 365,904 acres through 710 new contracts. CSP provides funding for environmental enhancements to farmers who have proven to be conservation-oriented.
* Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program: Iowa NRCS obligated about $275,000 through 56 contracts treating 1,967 acres. Through WHIP, NRCS provides assistance to private landowner interested in establishing wildlife habitat.
* Agricultural Water Enhancement Program: More than $100,000 was used for a project to help reduce the amounts of sediment and phosphorus carried in runoff to Rathbun Lake and its tributaries.
* Wetlands Reserve Program: This program continues to be Iowa NRCS' most popular easement program. In fiscal year 2011, NRCS purchased conservation easements valued at more than $15 million, an increase of more than $4 million from 2010, covering 4,137 acres through 42 contracts. The goal of WRP is to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat, on every acre enrolled.
* Grassland Reserve Program: In another easement program, NRCS funded the purchase of nine Grassland Reserve Program easements, covering 955 acres at a total value of $690,864. These easements ensure these acres will be maintained as grassland.