Taking on the challenge of improving Iowa’s water quality is a tall task with all Iowans vested in the results. The recently released Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS) progress report from Iowa State University (ISU) and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) shows how farmer initiative has produced significant results in the seven years since the strategy was adopted.

Data from a recent ISU study shows that Iowa agriculture is responsible for a 22 percent reduction in phosphorus loads since the 1980-1996 benchmark period established in the INRS – one of the key goals in the plan. Iowa farmers are continuously improving their conservation efforts, and the scientifically-proven model used to successfully reduce phosphorus is now being applied to address nitrogen loss.

Farmers have reduced phosphorus loss by 22%

“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.”

The new INRS report includes more than 115 pages detailing how local, state and federal agencies, municipalities, individuals, private organizations, and farm groups like IFBF have worked together to implement new practices and document investment and progress in water quality. One of those new practices is the planting of cover crops, which ISU research shows can reduce nitrogen losses by approximately 30 percent or more. According to the Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council’s (INREC) progress measurement system using retailer and Certified Crop Advisor farm records, Iowa farmers planted more than two million acres of cover crops in 2018, a 26 percent increase from the previous year.

Iowa farmers planted more than 2 million acres of cover crops in 2018.

“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. The total state and federal funding for all INRS-related efforts-- including education, outreach, research and practice implementation-- was at least $560 million, a nine percent increase from the previous year.

To learn more about the latest 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 improvement, go to www.conservationcountsiowa.com.