USDA conservation grants for IowaThe U.S. Department of Agri­­culture (USDA) last week awarded $370 million in matching funds to spur conservation gains  through the Regional Con­servation Partnership Program (RCPP). More than $5 million of those funds were awarded to conservation projects in Iowa.

Kirk Hanlin, assistant chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), awarded the Iowa Targeted Demonstration Watersheds Par­tner­­ship Project $3.5 million at an event in Des Moines.

That funding, which will be matched by an estimated contribution of about $4.7 million from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stew­ard­ship (IDALS) and other partners, will increase available resources to implement its Water Quality Initiative demonstration projects in key targeted watersheds, conduct farmer-to-farmer outreach and assist farmers in implementing the voluntary nutrient reduction strategy’s conservation practices, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said.

“The projects will focus on the adoption of conservation practices that are most beneficial to reducing nutrient loading in up to nine watersheds,” Northey said.

Cedar Rapids project
The USDA will also provide $2 million to the Cedar Rapids water utility for an RCPP project.

The Middle Cedar Partnership Project will focus on working with farmers and landowners to install best management practices such as cover crops, nutrient management, wetlands and saturated buffers to help improve water quality, water quantity and soil health in the Cedar River Watershed.

Funding for a Missouri-based project, the Regional Grassland Bird and Grazing Lands En­­hancement Initiative, includes counties in southern Iowa to create and implement management strategies that provide for the adoption of scientifically proven and acceptable pasture and grassland management practices.

This project is administered by the Missouri NRCS. The project will target at-risk bird species habitat on pastures and agricultural lands, enhance water and soil quality, and improve plant productivity limited by undesirable invasive plant species. The NRCS is providing $5 million for this project through RCPP and the Missouri Department of Conservation. Other partners are providing $10 million. Parts of Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa are also included in this project.

Competition fierce

The competition for funding was fierce, Hanlin said.

Nearly 600 pre-proposals were sent to the NRCS during the application process. Applicants and their partners requested nearly $2.8 billion worth of federal funding.
The NRCS selected about 200 groups to submit full proposals for consideration. In the end, 115 programs in the United States and Puerto Rico were awarded $370 million in funding.

“These projects leverage an estimated $400 million or more in partner contributions for a total of almost $800 million of conservation going on the ground in our country,” Hanlin said.

Northey said partners, including the Iowa Farm Bureau, helped in the early stages as the state worked to define the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

“We are very fortunate because there was a lot of vision and water quality initiative work that has been done the last three years that set us up very well (to receive these awards),” Northey said. “This would not have happened without many partners that started this whole water quality initiative process.”

The work isn’t done yet, Northey said.

“We’re beyond the start of something great. We certainly have a long ways to go, but we’re at a very good point,” Northey said. “This is an important award that helps take us to the next step.”