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Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy turns fiv

By Staff | Jun 8, 2018

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig visits with representatives from the State FFA Council during a fifth anniversary celebration of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy held last week.



BOONE – Five years ago, May 29, 2013, marked the beginning of efforts to help reduce nutrient loss in both agricultural and urban areas when the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was finalized.

Last week, producers, agricultural leaders, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, Gov. Kim Reynolds and others gathered at the Iowa State University BioCentury Research Farm near Boone to celebrate the success and excitement for the future of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

“We announced the strategy five years ago,” said Naig. “We said it would be a collaborative approach to make water quality improvements in the state of Iowa and also the Gulf of Mexico. The strategy is built on the premise that point and non-point urban and rural agricultural and non agricultural sites must work together to make water quality improvements.”

That collaboration has been critically important over all of the efforts the past five years.

“We have been extremely encouraged by the engagement we have seen across the state,” he said. “We have seen farmers and landowners and communities, business, homeowners and many others making improvements to improve water quality.”

He added there have been more than 250 different organizations that are participating in 65 demonstration projects across the state.

“Those partners have provided $37.7 million to go with the $23.4 million in state funding that are going to these projects,” Naig said. “We have tremendous leverage going on.”

Some of the examples of those partners stepping up and making significant investments helping to support the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy include:

  • $18.2 million from six USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Programs
  • The Iowa Pork Producers, which invested $50,000 to offset up to 50 percent of the cost for pig farmers to install saturated buffers and bioreactors on their farmland.
  • Ducks Unlimited has also provided a $30,000 contribution for water quality wetlands in the Boone River Watershed project in Wright County.

In addition to those monetary contributions, Naig said producers have also helped to make the last five years of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy a success.

“In the past five years, 8,000 farmers – including nearly 4,600 first-time users – have signed up for a water quality focus project through the Water Quality Initiative cost program,” he said. “These farmers have invested $17 million of their own funds to try cover crops, no-till, strip-till and nitrogen inhibitors on their land.”

Water quality isn’t just a rural issue, either. Naig said they have partnered with more than 44 urban water quality projects.

“It’s been encouraging to see our urban neighbors and partners engaging in this important issue,” he said. “We all have a role to play on this important subject and we’re seeing Iowans step up.”

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was the culmination of two years of work from the USDA, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa State University and a broad group of stakeholders to develop a science-based model to guide the efforts.

“When we announced the strategy we also said Iowa’s approach would be science-based,” said Naig. “So it is no accident we’re here at the Iowa State University research farm today and looking at a research project of a bioreactor behind us.”

Naig said it is important to continue to give farmers additional tools to do an even better job for caring for their land.

“Due to our rich soils and higher organic matter that makes Iowa’s land so productive, we also need practices that treat water and remove nutrients before they reach a river, lake or stream and we have seen over and over again that Iowa farmers are progressive,” he said. “They’re open minded and are constantly looking for ways to improve.”

He added, over the last five years of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, there has been an innovated approach developed to help provide crop insurance premium reductions for farmers that use cover crops.

“Iowa was the first state to adopt such a program and other states are looking at Iowa as a model to develop similar efforts in their states,” he said.

As he looks to the next five years of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, Naig said he knows we need to scale up our efforts to implement more practices across the state.

“We have worked hard over the last five years to build the knowledge base and secure the funding needed to move from a demonstration phase to implementation phase of this project and, as further evidence of private sector engagement, we have the Iowa Ag Water Alliance and the Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council,” Naig said. “These are both private entities that have formed specifically the mission of advancing Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy. We have much more to do, but I know we are on the right track.”

Reynolds is also a strong supporter of improving Iowa’s water quality.

“Iowans across the state are making water quality a high priority and it’s that commitment that was also apparent during the 2018 legislative session when a historic water quality bill passed that had been worked on the previous three years,” she said. “I was proud to be able to sign the first bill as governor of this state of funding water quality. The bill committed more than $280 million to Iowa’s water quality efforts over the next 12 years and it really built on what this state had provided in resources in water quality over the past five years including more than $10 million annually.”

Reynolds remembers when discussions began on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

“We knew this was an effort that could not be done alone,” she said. “As Iowans, we’re known for coming together to lend a hand, help our neighbors and work for the common good and that is honestly the same approach that is applied to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. We knew we must bring together stakeholders to gather the best information, to utilize the most current resources and best practices to work together to improve water quality. And today, we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”

The work Iowa’s producers are putting towards improving water quality isn’t going unnoticed by Reynolds.

“As you know, I grew up in rural Iowa, and I know how hard our farmers work each and every day to feed and fuel the world and these efforts aren’t going unnoticed,” she said. “I sincerely appreciate their hard work and the important efforts farmers and making adopting conservation practices.”

Best practice methods like cover crops, nutrient management, wetlands, saturated buffers, bioreactors are results of local conservation partners, farmers and landowners working together help “improve water quality, water quantity and soil health,” the governor said.

“As you can tell, we are excited about the future,” she said. “We have the right plan. We have significant funding in place and a tremendous team of partners working on this critical issue. We know there is more work to do and we have the right people at the table to continue to do the right things to make sure we have great water quality and soil health for Iowa.”

Hogwei Xin, interim director of Iowa Nutrient Research Center, was also a part of the celebration helping to recognize the last five years of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Xin said the research behind the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy that is done at the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Center involves scientists from Iowa’s regent universities, including Iowa State University, University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa, in addition to other collaborators.

“Give credit to the science assessment team for their Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy involvement,” he said. “As the strategy was developed, the team spent more than two years providing research based foundation that allows to quantify the effectiveness of the current practices for reducing nutrient losses from the landscape.”

Xin said the science assessment team was led by Iowa State University faculty, and also includes individuals representing IDALS, the Iowa DNR, USDA Agricultural Research Services and the US Environmental Protection Agency and the USDA NRCS.

“These team members put tremendous time and effort and thought into the huge, sometimes very dominating task,” he said. “We truly believe it is one of a kind, first in the nation. A model for many states and regions to follow.”

He also credited the science assessment team to achieving the ability to demonstrate the need for continuous research innovation to improve water quality.

“And that’s exactly where the Iowa Nutrient Research Center come in,” he said. “For five years the center has forged ahead with the mission to provide science support necessary to address one of our state’s most pressing concerns. We work to fund research that will help us meet the goals to identify the nutrient reduction strategy.”

In the first five years, the center has funded 60 research projects with over $7 million that involved 90 scientists, faculty, staff and graduate students.

Xin added that edge of field practices such as bioreactors hold great promise.

“The results have shown they reduce nitrate in water by an average of 43 percent,” he said. “We have funded research to install saturated buffers on the banks of the Big Creek in Boone County. Preliminary results have shown the buffers are capable of removing more than 75 percent of tile water nitrates.”

The center also supports work on drainage water recycling in prairie strips that is led by Dr. Matt Helmers, professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering at ISU, in addition to other research efforts.

“Through the center’s research we are setting the state for demonstration of new and emerging practices that can help us make a difference towards meeting the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals,” Xin said. “The Iowa Nutrient Research Center and our role in the progress of Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goes, it has been a very positive five years. We are looking forward to even more a positive five years and beyond in the future.”

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