Jan 06, 2016

USDA Launches New Effort to Help Iowa Farmers Conserve Water

U.S. secretary of agriculture announces additional support for Iowa producers to improve nutrient management and water quality efforts

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has announced a host of new efforts to help Iowa’s farmers and livestock producers conserve water and soil resources and improve nutrient management practices on the state's 30 million acres of farmland. Vilsack said the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will expand access to its signature conservation programs for Iowa producers, making available up to 85,000 additional acres for sensitive lands, and better target grants and loans for technical assistance and capital improvements while working with state partners to more closely align priorities in an improved “watershed-based strategy” for nutrient management.

Since 2009, the USDA has invested more than $2.2 billion in Iowa conservation efforts and helped to enroll more than 4.5 million acres of Iowa working lands in USDA conservation programs. Through the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program, which provides rental payments to producers to idle and conserve land, Iowa producers have contributed to a reduction of 260 million lb of nitrogen and 534 million lb of phosphorus in the Mississippi River Basin between 2008 and 2013. In addition, findings from a 2014 USDA report show that conservation work on cropland in the Mississippi River Basin, including Iowa cropland, has reduced the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus flowing to the Gulf of Mexico by 18% and 20%, respectively.

The goal in Iowa, said Vilsack, is to help the state replicate the totality of a watershed-based plan such as USDA’s Mississippi River Basin Initiative across Iowa’s major state watersheds with a concerted, science-based approach.

“Today, USDA is making a decade-long commitment to Iowa producers and residents to provide coordination, assistance and greater access to available programming above and beyond what we currently offer,” he said. “In 2016, we will begin by making available up to 85,000 new acres for rental payments reserved for the most sensitive lands, equivalent to roughly a $175 million investment into the state's land resources. In addition, we will work with state partners to remove barriers and backlogs to other conservation reserve efforts so USDA resources are fully utilized. With regard to technical assistance, if our appropriations remain at the current funding level for the next decade, USDA will be able to provide $660 million in targeted assistance through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. And for capital improvements to water and wastewater treatment facilities in small communities, we will expand access to the $25 million in loans and grants currently offered to Iowa, for a $250 million investment over the next ten years. As we make these investments over the next decade, USDA will work collaboratively with producers, state government, land grant institutions and local conservation partners to monitor and report on progress in a consistent, transparent manner.”