Retailers will play a critical role in the success of nutrient management plans across the dozen states along the Mississippi River that must implement them. The 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan requires at least a 45 percent reduction in nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) loads to the Gulf of Mexico.

Iowa was one of the first to complete its strategy. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Iowa State University (ISU) recently released the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a science- and technology-based approach to assessing and reducing nutrients entering waterways. The strategy—which crafters say will evolve as new information, data and science is adopted—can cost-effectively reduce nutrients from point sources, such as industrial facilities, and nonpoint sources, like farms.

 Ag retailers and agronomy staff are crucially important to accomplishment of the nonpoint source strategy, says John Lawrence, ISU associate dean for Extension and outreach programs and ISU Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension director.

"Farmers rely heavily on the advice of ag retailers. Practices such as nutrient rate and timing directly impact retailer business," he says. "Retailers need to understand how practices impact a farmer's goal of profitable, sustainable crop production, impact their business, and affect success of the strategy."

CFQ: Retailers Critical to Nutrient Management Plan Success

Lawrence encourages retailers and staff to become familiar with the plan and recommended practices, and find the value proposition in them for everyone. Practices that work in given areas can then be showcased at field days and through on-farm research, as well as through informational meetings to get both farmers and agronomy staff up to speed.

Possible nutrient reduction practices as outlined in Iowa fall into three categories:

  • Nitrogen and phosphorus management practices that involve such things as application rate, timing and method, use of cover crops and living mulches.
  • Erosion control and land use practices that include perennial energy crops, extended rotations, tillage methods, grazed pastures, land retirement and terraces.
  • Edge-of-field practices that focus on drainage water management, wetlands, bioreactors, buffers and sediment control. (see chart to use as graphic)

Lawrence suggests retailers recommend farmers take a two-prong approach. "First, help them pick one or two practices that make sense on their farms and try them. Maybe it is just on a few acres of cover crops, or it is strip-till or no-till on a field, or perhaps on-farm research to compare application time, rate or placement. Many of the practices are well understood and relatively low cost to try," he says. "Second, encourage farmers to continue to learn. Attend field days, talk to crop advisers and neighbors, do research about what additional practices will fit and make a difference. Encourage them to develop a unique plan about what to implement and when."

Shawn Richmond, Iowa Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) coordinator for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, agrees. "Incremental adoption of new practices into farm operations will generate meaningful progress while allowing individual farmers to focus on making those practices work in their operations," he says. "Take things one step at a time so farmers can gain comfort as opposed to biting off more than they can chew. Learning from others is critical, and will help to make new efforts more successful by seeing what difficulties and challenges others encounter and how they are overcome."

Breaking Down the Plan
The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy ( follows the framework provided in the 2011 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) memorandum, "Recommended Elements of a State Framework for Managing Nitrogen and Phosphorus Pollution." The memo outlines strategy for new and existing practices for both point and nonpoint nutrient sources.

"The approach to addressing the diverse and weather-driven nutrient transport from Iowa nonpoint sources must be different from the approach to address the controlled and relatively constant nutrient discharge from Iowa's major cities and industries," reads the report. "Accounting for the potential reduction from point sources, the target load reductions for nonpoint sources is 41 percent of the statewide total nitrogen and 29 percent of the total phosphorus to meet the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan goal. Iowa has nutrient-rich landscapes. Significant progress towards these large targets will take considerable time, effort and funding."

The Iowa strategy outlines action items stakeholders might consider for reducing N and P loads from nonpoint sources:

  • Set priorities -- consider conservation programs, combination of in-field and off-field practices, small watershed pilot projects, nutrient trading and innovative approaches.
  • Document progress -- look at new and expanded frameworks to document best management practices and collaborate with science assessment team to measure success.
  • Utilize research and technology -- try new technologies and creative solutions, use private and public funding for science and technology and review hypoxia zone research.
  • Strengthen outreach, education and collaboration -- establish new, enhanced private and public sector roles, assist local watershed groups with coordination of local nutrient reduction projects, expand agribusiness consulting and advisory services to farmers, broaden awareness and provide relevant information to farmers, achieve market-driven solutions, collaborate and share information with other states, increased public awareness and recognition, statewide marketing and education.
  • Maximize funding -- extend effective resource use and benefits per amount expended.

 "The scientific assessment demonstrates that a combination of practices will be needed to reach desired load reductions," says Lawrence. "Where appropriate, the science assessment and outcomes of the science assessment will be integrated into operational plans."

Looking Ahead

Lawrence says Iowa has developed and presented its strategy ahead of most states, and spent a great deal of time developing the science assessment as a foundation for the strategy.

"We're typically quite modest about our efforts, but, yes, Iowa is leading the pack. We were the second state to complete a state nutrient reduction strategy, behind Mississippi," says Richmond. "Two things that notably set our strategy apart are the comprehensive nonpoint source science assessment that was completed as part of our strategy and the joint effort between both point and nonpoint sources towards collectively achieving the 45 percent reduction goals for N and P."

Richmond adds other states have varying degrees of efforts underway to develop and implement strategies, with most expected to complete strategies by the end of 2013. To check the status of other states, visit

"The path forward to reducing nutrient impacts will not be easy. This strategy is the beginning. There still is a need for development of additional practices, testing of new practices, further testing of existing practices, and verifying practice performance at implementation scales. This strategy encourages development of new science, new technologies, new opportunities and the further engagement and collaboration of both the public and private sectors," notes the report.

"This plan will take many years to be fully implemented," says Lawrence. "However, it is important to get started now. The practices are in place. Now help farmers figure the most appropriate practices for their farms and how they fit in conservation plans for the future."