A recently released progress report on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS) shows that Iowa farmers’ initiative and hard work has produced significant gains in water quality in the seven years since the strategy was adopted.  

“Iowa is a national leader when it comes to collaborative efforts to improve water quality, and the latest data shows the progress farmers are making,” said Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) President Craig Hill. “We know it will take time and we are in it for the long-term, but we also know that by working together, we can continue to make great progress.”

Data from the report, released in early July by Iowa State University (ISU), the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), shows that Iowa agriculture is responsible for a 22% reduction in phosphorus loads since the 1980-1996 benchmark period established in the INRS.

Reducing phosphorus loads in Iowa lakes, streams and rivers is a key goal in the INRS. The scientifically proven model used to successfully reduce phosphorus is now being applied by farmers and their conservation partners to address nitrogen loss, another of the key goals of the plan. 

The new INRS report includes more than 115 pages detailing how local, state and federal agencies, municipalities, individuals, private organizations and farm groups, such as the IFBF, have worked together to implement new practices and to document investment and progress in wat­er quality. 

Cover crop gains
The report also highlighted continued gains in cover crops, which ISU research shows can reduce nitrogen losses by approximately 30% or more. 

In 2018, Iowa farmers planted more than 2 million acres of cover crops, according to the Iowa Nutrient Research and Ed­­ucation Council’s (INREC) progress measurement system using retailer and Certified Crop Advisor farm records. That’s a 26% increase from the cover crop total acres the previous year, the INREC report said.

Committed to improvement 
The INRS report, Hill noted, also shows that Iowa farmers re­­main committed to taking on the challenge of improving water quality, even during a tough economic period.

“The INRS re­­port documents and quantifies the ways farmers are committing to water quality and conservation based on the latest data available to continue our positive momentum — even during several years of an economic decline in agriculture,” Hill said. “For example, last year, more than 540 collaborative outreach events drew more than 50,000 attendees, showing the enthusiasm farmers share for new and innovative conversation practices. That’s a significant number when you consider that Iowa has 86,000 farms in total.” 

Everyone has a role to play in improving Iowa’s water quality, and the Iowa Legislature has prioritized conservation funding and water quality improvement during recent sessions, Hill said. The total state and federal funding for all INRS-related efforts — including education, outreach, research and practice implementation — was at least $560 million, a 9% increase from the previous year.   

To learn more about the INRS report, visit http://www.nutrientstrategy.iastate.edu/. To see farmer success stories and learn more about the innovative ways Iowa farmers are taking on water quality improvements, go to  www.conservationcountsiowa.com.