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Iowa farmers aware of water quality plan, ISU survey shows

Most Iowa farmers are aware of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, and they are working with others to learn more and implement practices on their farms, a recent poll concluded.

The 2014 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll included several questions relating to the strategy as a way to gauge Iowa farmers’ knowledge of and support of the plan.

The strategy, which the state launched in 2013, provides a science- and technology-based framework to guide actions that reduce the loss of nutrients to surface water. The 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan prompted the strategy, calling for Iowa and other states in the Mississippi River watershed to develop strategies to reduce nutrient loads to the Gulf of Mexico.

The surveys were mailed to 2,218 farm operators in February 2014, about seven months after the launch of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Of the 1,128 farmers who responded to the survey, almost 80 percent had some level of knowledge of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Only 20 percent said they were not knowledgeable at all of the strategy.

Aware of strategy

This confirms broad awareness of the strategy, said Rick Robinson, environmental policy advisor at Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF).

"The survey also confirms that farmers are concerned, engaged and willing to do more, but sometimes there are barriers to more conservation adoption," Robinson said. "The survey will help us target our efforts more."

Seventy-six percent of the re­­­­spondents ag­­reed that they were concerned about agriculture’s impacts on Iowa’s water quality.

Seventy-two percent of the farmers who responded said they would like to improve conservation practices on the land they farm to help meet the goals of the strategy. More than 47 percent said helping meet the goals of the strategy is a high priority.

Working toward goals

Iowa farmers are already working toward meeting the goals of the strategy, Robinson said.

"Farmers and at least 100 local organizations in 16 targeted, smaller watersheds have combined more than $11.8 million in their own funding with more than $7.5 million in state money and are setting goals, planning and implementing conservation activities, supported by the science that is appropriate for their local conditions," he said.

Still, farmers recognized they could do more to implement practices on their farm that would work toward the strategy’s goal.

More than 46 percent of the farmers said they would be willing to have specialists and experts help them evaluate how their farm is doing in terms of keeping nutrients out of the waterways. One of the largest barriers to nutrient management-related conservation action is the cost of some conservation practices, respondents said.

The IFBF supported legislation that provided more than $17 million in funding for the strategy, related conservation projects and soil conservation cost-share in the state. In 2015, Iowa Farm Bureau SHARE grants provided $72,350 for nine new local conservation/water quality projects, Robinson noted.

And there are at least six county Farm Bureaus or affiliated service companies named as partners in the 16 Iowa Department of Land and Ag Stewardship (IDALS) Water Quality Initiative priority watershed projects. County Farm Bureaus are continually considering active, meaningful roles in projects.

"Challenges remain, but farmers and cities are working together," Robinson said. "Our conservation programs are certainly working better and smarter."

To learn more about the strategy and what farmers are doing, go to www.conservationcountsiowa.com.



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