As a longtime observer of agriculture in Iowa, I’ve never seen anything quite like the way farmers and others in the state have embraced the challenge of improving water quality and reducing soil loss. The progress  since the implementation of the state’s Water Quality Initiative in 2013 has really been amazing.

As the Spokesman’s special conservation and water quality section in this edition shows, reduced tillage and cover crops, once considered exotic, have become quite mainstream.

An estimate by the Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council (INREC), which uses data gathered from ag retailers, showed farmers use no-till or conservation tillage on some 80 percent of their planted acres. Cover crops, the INREC estimate showed, were planted on as many as 1.5 million Iowa crop acres in 2017, 70 percent more than previous estimates.

It doesn’t stop there. Our section includes articles on Iowa farmers installing edge-of-field structures, like bioreactors and wetlands.

These structures are expensive to install and don’t provide any agronomic benefits the way that conservation tillage and cover crops can. That’s why the water quality funding bill passed by the Iowa Legislature in 2018 included an emphasis on funding these projects.

Of course, conservation is nothing new for Iowa. The state has long been a leader in practices that reduce soil loss and protect the environment. But with the Water Quality Initiative in place, farmers are taking conservation and water quality measures to a new, and higher, level.