Iowa’s innovative efforts to develop public-private collaborations to promote and finance conservation and water quality improvement practices are attracting favorable attention around the country.

Three Iowa programs to promote conservation were recognized at the annual meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), held last week in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Leaders in other states are increasingly looking to Iowa to find creative ways to build collaborations to improve water quality, build soil health and promote overall agricultural sustainability, according to Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig.

“Folks around the country are very interested in understanding what we are doing in Iowa and how we are implementing our Nutrient Reduction Strategy,” Naig said. “We want to share our knowledge with others because we know that if we are going to achieve our goals regionally and nationally, we are going to need many states to work together and all be headed in the right direction.”

The Iowa Agricultural Water Alliance (IAWA) earned this year’s Public-Private Partnership award from NASDA. The award recognizes private organizations that partner with a state Department of Agriculture to implement a program, project or service that makes a positive im­­pact.

Founded in 2014, the IAWA works to increase the pace and scale of farmer-led efforts to improve water quality in Iowa. It worked with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) to align 48 partners — including 19 agribusinesses — and $39 million in non-federal match to improve water quality.

The program, called the Mid­­west Agriculture Water Quality Partnership, has improved conservation on more than 3.5 million acres of private lands in Iowa in less than three years.

“I nominated IAWA for the award and was thrilled that they received it,” Naig said. “It’s really a great example of the public-private partnerships that are so important and really are getting a lot of attention around the country.”

NASDA, along with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), also recognized Iowa’s pilot program that offers farmers a discount on their crop insurance premiums if they plant cover crops. The IDALS-led program, which began in 2017, was cited as an innovative way to help finance on-farm conservation practices.

The Iowa pilot program linking crop insurance with cover crops is gaining a lot of attention around the country, including from neighboring Illinois, Naig said. “We think it further underscores how much of a connection there is between risk management and conservation,” he said.

The report by NASDA and EDF also recognized Iowa’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low interest loans to build conservation practices, such as buffer strips, wetlands and manure storage facilities.

These programs, Naig said, highlight some of the best things about Iowa’s efforts to improve water quality.

“We know that we are going to need to be creative and pursue innovative practices to reach our conservation goals. And we are going to need to increasingly engage the private sector to make sure we can accelerate the adoption of those practices,” Naig said. “I was very pleased that others around the country think we are on the right track and we are viewed as a conservation leader by our colleagues.”