Iowa’s three-year-old Water Quality Initiative is off to a strong and very promising start. How do we know that? Simple: it’s the report card.

The water quality initiative’s annual report card, which was developed by independent researchers from Iowa State University and was submitted recently to Iowa’s environmental officials, found steady and measurable progress on reaching the goals of Iowa’s water quality initiative, officially called the Nutrient Reduction Strategy. “We are making strides on just about every variable we are measuring,” said Iowa State’s John Lawrence.

The annual report clearly shows that farmers are stepping up to the challenge of improving Iowa’s water quality by planting more cover crops, building wetlands and adopting other practices proven to be effective in improving water quality. More importantly, it shows that farmers are taking ownership of water quality in Iowa and are making it a priority.

Here are a few highlights of the progress report, which covers the 12 months ending May 31, 2016:

- The implementation of select conservation practices kept more than 3.8 million pounds of nitrogen from entering surface water. In addition, nearly 218,000 pounds of phosphorus was kept out of surface water.

- State and private organizations in 2015 invested more than $122 million to implement water quality programs outlined in the initiative. That investment was more than matched by farmers’ own investment.

-  77 percent of farmers polled in 2015 said they were planning to plant cover crops, which have shown to reduce nutrients while improving soil health.

Farmers aren’t alone in adopting the collaborative and research-based strategy. Iowa communities are doing their part by reducing nutrient losses from their wastewater treatment facilities. Agribusinesses are incorporating conservation and water quality into the crop production information they supply to farmers. Also pitching in to the water quality effort are Iowa State and other colleges, state and federal government agencies and ag organizations.

Improving water quality in Iowa is long-term and ongoing process. Progress will be affected by a lot of factors, especially the erratic weather patterns we’ve seen lately in the state.

But, by accepting the challenge and collaborating, Iowa farmers and others are making steady measureable progress that will lead, over time, to improved water quality.  Want to know more: Just look it up.

By Dirck Steimel/ Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau News Services Manager and Spokesman editor.