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Farmers are stepping up for conservation

Farmers are stepping up for conservation
Lately, the Des Moines Register and other urban media outlets have found a new cause: piling criticism on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

They say the science-based plan developed by the state’s ag and environmental leaders is doomed to fail. They contend it will never meet its goal to reduce nutrient loss from farms and cities and attain federal goals to improve Iowa waters.

The problem, the newspapers say, is the plan’s flexible and voluntary approach. Instead, they want federal and state authorities to mandate one-size-fits-all regulations that would force farmers to use the same practices on every acre in the state. The rolling hills of western Iowa, the flat black acres in the state’s north central counties or the rocky fields in the northeast would all be treated the same.

The newspapers are demanding regulations because they predict Iowa farmers will never voluntarily take the steps necessary to meet the goals.

But clearly they haven’t taken drives around rural Iowa like I do. I’m consistently impressed with the farmers I meet who are stepping up to conserve soil and improve water quality.

In the past few years I’ve been to a number of Iowa farms that have installed wetlands  or bioreactors. I’ve walked across plenty of grass buffer strips and acres of cover crops . And I can’t tell you how many Iowa farmers I know who are avid no-tillers.

The farmers didn’t install these conservation practices because regulations forced them to. No, they simply believed it was the right thing to do to improve the environment and leave the land in better shape for future generations.

The statistics back up what I’m seeing on the ground.

Iowa farmers have enrolled more acres than any other state in the continuous, targeted Conservation Reserve Program; more than 354,000 Iowa acres have been restored to wetlands, and surveys show the use of conservation has soared in the past two decades. Indeed the demand for conservation cost-share programs from Iowa farmers far exceeds the amount of money available in state and federal programs.

But sadly, Iowans aren’t hearing much about these voluntary conservation success stories. Instead, they are being fed a heavy dose of the regulation message, even though there is no evidence that one-size-fits-all regulation will do anything to solve the issue. 

Iowa is only the second state along Mississippi River to develop a nutrient reduction strategy. And the strategy is by far the most comprehensive, looking at all the available research to determine which conservation practices, or combinations of practices, will work best on Iowa’s widely variable soil types and topography. Its focus is on immediate incremental progress.

And it’s all out there for everyone to see at www.nutrientstrategy.iastate.edu.

In my view, Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is the best way to make our state the leader in addressing water quality just as it leads the nation in food production.

Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck is the news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau