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Northey thanks Branstad for including funds to implement Nutrient Reduction Strategy

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 03/05/2013 9:15 AM

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DES MOINES —Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey thanked Gov. Terry Branstad last week for including $2.4 million in fiscal 2014 and $4.4 million in fiscal 2015 to support implementation of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

"Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds have been strong supporters of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and I appreciate them including funding to move forward with implementing some of the needed water-quality focused conservation practices in their budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015,"

The Iowa Department of Agriculture's proposal for the agriculture water quality initiative would provide $575,000 for marketing and outreach, $1.6 million for water quality initiative cost share and $150,000 for staffing in fiscal 2014.

The marketing and outreach funds would allow the ag department to collaborate with farm organizations, environmental groups, the Water Resources Coordinating Council, the Watershed Planning Advisory Council and other stakeholders to promote and implement conservation practices, Northey said. This would include statewide outreach through farmer-to-farmer interactions and broad-based communications to educate farmers and encourage participation in voluntary water quality initiatives.

The water quality initiative cost share will focus on providing funds that will be matched by farmers or land owners to implement practices identified as being the most effective in nutrient reduction and improving water quality, Northey said. These include proper nutrient application, conservation tillage, wetlands, bioreactors, no-till, cover crops, buffers and drainage water management. Targeted watersheds will be identified.

The Iowa Soybean Association is pleased with the support Branstad offered.

"This funding signals a positive step in moving this strategy into a workable plan for our farmers," said Roger Wolf, ISA director of environmental services, in a press release. "We hope the Legislature agrees with the recommendations offered by the department of agriculture. When it comes to financial support, we recognize that there are many competing interests that need to be balanced and we're happy to see water quality on the list of priorities."

Mark Jackson, ISA president and farmer from Rose Hill, looks forward to seeing the plan put into action.

"Soybean farmers have voiced their support for this strategy," Jackson said. "The science for this plan is solid, and we need to move forward now with support for funding from this Legislature."

Ralph Rosenberg, executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council, criticized the strategy for relying on all-voluntary farm conservation programs, which have fallen short of protecting waters in the past.

"Even though research clearly shows significantly increasing farmer participation in conservation programs is critical for success of the plan, the document does not set timetables or goals to ensure that this will happen," Rosenberg said in a blog post on the Iowa Environmental Council website.

While the strategy contains important research on farmland conservation practices by an ISU-led team, additional work is needed to explain how this research will be put to use, Rosenberg said.

The ISU research suggested combinations of actions by Iowa farmers that could achieve the goals of the strategy, if implemented broadly across the state, but the policy portion of the document doesn't propose a combination of practices Iowa should implement, or set goals or time lines for doing so.