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Iowa Department of Agriculture makes funds available for conservation

BY GRETA MEYLE | AUGUST 28, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Iowa Department of Agriculture is working with farmers to protect Iowa waterways.

The Legislature originally allocated $1.8 million for the farming community to practice water conservation efforts. As a result of such a high response to the program, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced on Aug. 8 that an additional $1 million in funds will be provided to help farmers exercise nitrate-reduction practices.

Officials and farmers alike agree the program will positively affect agriculture in Iowa but said there are questions yet to be answered.

“We are extremely pleased by the response from farmers,” said Dustin Vande Hoef, the communication director for the Iowa Department of Agriculture.

While these funds are just now becoming available, they are part of a nutrient-reduction strategy the department has been working on since last fall. But the state isn’t the only one putting funds forth. In order to partake from the funds the state is making available, farmers have to be willing to match the amount they take with their own money.

“All were willing to match it — meaning $5.5 million worth of funds will go into the ground this fall — which is exciting,” Vande Hoef said.

The money farmers are eligible to apply for is intended for farmers to implement no-till and strip-till farming. The money can also be used for growing cover crops and the use of nitrification inhibitors in fertilizers.

Legislators on both sides of the political spectrum said the program is a positive step forward.

“I’m very encouraged that this is going to be a good program for Iowa and the environment,” said Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone.

A Democratic counterpart says farming isn’t the only practice threatening the environment
“Farms are not the only source of pollution for Iowa’s lakes and streams,” said Sen. Dennis Black, D-Grinnell.

Black cited urban development as a major contributor to water pollution but maintained the demand for the project is high — a satisfactory sign.

Despite the positive feedback this program is getting, one University of Iowa expert said the program could lead to other concerns.

“The idea of reducing pollutants is a good one, but the question is what is the burden on the farmers — will it potentially increase food prices down the line and what are the other details of the program,” said Tim Hagle, a UI associate professor of political science. “This will determine how effective the program is.”

Keith Summerville, the chairman of the advisory board for the Leopold Center of Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, said it remains to be seen how the funding will affect the high level of nitrates in the water.

“If we can identify the watersheds that are most significantly affecting the problem and direct those funds there, I think we will be better off,” he said.

One area farmer said the practices are ideal for farmers but are not always a logical option.

“A lot of times these programs are great, but if the funding is not actually available, they’re only great in theory,” Steve Swenka said.

But with funding now becoming available and in light of recent concerns over environmental concerns connected to farming practices, Swenka said farmers have been keeping conservation on their minds and will continue to do so.


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