Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced that four projects focused on expanding the use and innovative delivery of water quality practices have been selected to receive $3.06 million in funding through the Iowa water quality initiative over the next three years. In addition to the state funds, the four projects will provide an additional $2.59 million in matching funds to support water quality improvement efforts as well as other in-kind contributions.

"Broad adoption of a variety of practices is necessary to reach the aggressive goals we all share for water quality. These four new projects are focused on helping us learn more about the best ways to get these practices on the land and creating demonstration opportunities so farmers can see how a new practice might work on their farm," Northey said.

All the projects will focus on expanding the use of conservation practices identified in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy as positively impacting water quality. In addition, strong outreach components will help to share information on these practices and promote increased awareness and adoption of practices and technologies to reduce nutrient loads to surface waters.

The projects started on July 1. Thirteen partners from agriculture organizations, institutions of higher education, private industry, the local, state and federal government, and others, are working together on these projects.

Applications were requested in early March and all were reviewed by a committee including representatives from the Department and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The committee made recommendations that were used by the Department in selecting the projects to be funded.

"As part of the Iowa Water Quality Initiative we currently have 16 watershed demonstration projects, statewide cost share funds and nine urban conservation projects. These new projects are another opportunity to continue to engage farmers and encourage even greater adoption of practices focused on protecting water quality," Northey said.

A short summary of each of the projects follows here.

Advancing Nutrient Reduction in the Rock Creek Watershed
Grant award: $275,190
Total project: $387,190
Project leaders: Iowa Soybean Association (ISA)
Partners: Mitchell Soil and Water Conservation District, Mitchell County Conservation Board, and Iowa Agricultural Water Alliance
Project details: This project will enhance existing collaborative efforts to improve water quality and reduce nutrient loss in the Rock Creek Watershed in the Upper Cedar River Watershed. Working from a watershed plan developed by farmers and stakeholders, the effort will deliver installation assistance for edge-of-field practices, specifically bioreactors and saturated buffers. Once complete, the watershed will have the largest concentration of these practices in Iowa. This effort will serve as a pilot site for new and innovative ways to expand implementation of these practices in other areas of the state.

Don't Farm Naked: Integration of Ruminant Livestock and Cover Crops to Meet Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Goals
Grant award: $282,680
Total project: $394,680
Project leaders: Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI)
Partners: Iowa State University Extension, Iowa Beef Center, Iowa Cattleman's Association, Iowa Learning Farms, and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
Project details: PFI will work with livestock producers in the Floyd, North Raccoon, and Turkey River Watersheds to demonstrate the implementation and value of incorporating cover crops into row crop production in operations with ruminant livestock. Cover crops have a significant impact on reducing both nitrogen and phosphorus losses while also providing a high-quality, low-cost livestock feed. Planting cover crops, then grazing or harvesting them is a practical way to effectively reduce nutrient pollution, plus provide economic benefits to cattle owners. This presents an opportunity for rapid expansion of this practice across this particular type of farming system. This project will specifically target these operations to deliver on-farm and practical information through multiple outreach methods to spread knowledge and ultimately adoption of the practice.

Driving Cover Crop Adoption through Education and Technical Assistance and Showing Environmental Benefits
Grant award: $1,007,916
Total project: $2,225,166
Project leaders: Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC)
Partners: Archer Daniels Midland, DuPont Pioneer, LaCrosse Seed, Practical Farmers of Iowa, and Unilever
Project details: CTIC will lead this effort to integrate cover crops into the operation of farmers recognized as leaders by their production methods for raising corn and soybeans. These farmers participate in the "Sustainable Soy" program led by Unilever and Archer Daniels Midland. Farmers will be able to integrate cover crops onto their farms as part of continuous improvement of their production practices. This project will leverage investments of farmers and partners to provide technical and financial assistance to build a better understanding of this practice to continue the trend of expanding use of cover crops in Iowa.

Optimized Water Quality Wetlands Integrated with In-Field Nutrient Management Practices
Grant award: $1,500,000
Total project: $2,655,700
Project leaders: Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS)
Partners: Agribusiness Association of Iowa and Iowa State University
Project details: Wetlands targeted for nutrient removal have a significant impact on improving water quality in Iowa. This project will deliver new and innovative methods for delivering this technology in the Cedar River Watershed. SWCS is partnering with the Agribusiness Association of Iowa to coordinate efforts with CCAs and ag retailers working with farmers to deliver in-field management practices in the contributing watersheds. Iowa State University will partner on the monitoring and optimization of wetlands for water quality improvement. This approach will help inform delivery and expansion of wetlands in other areas of the state.

Background on Iowa Water Quality Initiative
The Iowa Water Quality Initiative was established in 2013 to help implement the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which is a science and technology based approach to achieving a 45 percent reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus losses to our waters. The strategy brings together both point sources, such as municipal wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities, and nonpoint sources, including farm fields and urban stormwater runoff, to address these issues.

The initiative seeks to harness the collective ability of both private and public resources and organizations to deliver a clear and consistent message to stakeholders to reduce nutrient loss and improve water quality.

The initiative is seeing some exciting results. More than 1,600 farmers have invested $4.2 million to try a new practice on their farm to better protect water quality over the past two years.

Funds are currently available to farmers interested in using cover crops, no-till or strip till, or using a nitrification inhibitor when applying fertilizer. Any farmer not already utilizing these practices will receive priority consideration for this assistance. Farmers can submit applications through their local Soil and Water Conservation District office.

In addition, 16 targeted Water Quality Initiative demonstration watershed projects have been funded to help implement and demonstrate water quality practices. The state has provided $7.4 million in funding to support these projects and has leveraged an additional $11.7 million in additional funding from partners and landowners. More than 95 organizations are participating in these projects.

Nine Urban Conservation Water Quality Initiative Demonstration Projects have also been funded. The state has awarded $655,194 in funding and partners and landowners participating in the projects will provide $2.43 million to support urban conservation efforts.

More information about the initiative can be found at www.CleanWaterIowa.org.