A new round of grants worth $2.6 million from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) signals a move toward building collaborations to improve water quality, reduce erosion and im­­prove soil health, Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said last week.

“These grants are all about adding capacity to our conservation efforts, scaling up and accelerating adoption by farmers,” Naig said. “Through these projects, we can connect with more partners and explore new approaches to encourage even more individuals to adopt the soil health and water quality practices outlined in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”

Two of the grants, one to Ducks Unlimited and another to the Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council (INREC), are designed to accelerate the restoration of wetlands in key Iowa watersheds, Naig said. “They are all about helping us find suitable wetland projects that can have a big impact on improving water quality,” he said.

An IDALS grant of $978,844 to Ducks Unlimited will help the conservation group provide technical assistance, including locating prospective wetland sites in the North Raccoon, Boone and South Skunk River basins. As part of the project, Ducks Unlimited is contacting landowners, designing sites and aligning potential funding sources to build more wetlands to improve water quality and wildlife habitat. 

IDALS granted $140,700 to INREC’S Des Moines Lobe Wetlands Initiative, which is also part of a focused effort to encourage farmers and landowners in 11 counties in north central Iowa to voluntarily integrate wetlands on their land to improve water quality and wildlife habitat. 

The largest of last week’s grants, $1.5 million, went to the Ag Technology and Environmental Stewardship Foundation, led by the Iowa Soybean Association. The foundation will use the funding to help establish a new performance-based incentive program to provide incentives to encourage farmers and landowners to adopt conservation practices. 

This project is working to bring a market-based approach that provides incentives to farmers and landowners who adopt water quality and conservation practices, Naig said. IDALS, he said, is the first state department of agriculture in the country to be involved in this type of program.

“This could bring more revenue into our whole conservation and water quality effort and could really be a game changer,” Naig said.

A fourth IDALS grant, $30,000, was extended to the Fayette Soil and Water Conservation District to help develop a comprehensive conservation plan for the Volga Lake and Frog Hollow watersheds in Fayette County.