Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey addresses local farmers and agriculture advocates at the American Legion in Breda on Wednesday. Northey was in town to promote the Elk Run Watershed Water Quality Initiative Project. The project aims to improve nutrient retention and promote clean waterways.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey addresses local farmers and agriculture advocates at the American Legion in Breda on Wednesday. Northey was in town to promote the Elk Run Watershed Water Quality Initiative Project. The project aims to improve nutrient retention and promote clean waterways.

December 17, 2015

Breda

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey urged local farmers to take advantage of the Elk Run Watershed Water Quality Improvement Project at a town-hall-style meeting in Breda on Wednesday.

Funding is available for landowners interested in using cover crops, bioreactors or other water-quality improvement systems through a mixture of state and private funds. To be eligible, land must be in the designated Elk Run Watershed area running from just north of Breda to south of Lake City in Calhoun, Carroll and Sac counties. As of Wednesday, a total of $713,000 is available for the project.

Northey said the project is one of 16 statewide projects aimed at researching nutrient-retention and water-quality methods while incentivizing landowners to put best-practice methods into use.

“There’s only 1 or 2 percent of the state that’s covered by watershed projects, so this is a unique opportunity for them to be able to get some additional dollars and for us to learn what it takes to get more in the ground,” Northey said. “In fact we talk about these being our laboratory for trying to figure out how we scale this up. We have such a huge amount of agriculture land in Iowa — 23 million acres of corn and soybeans — we have to figure out how to scale (nutrient conservation) up without costing ourselves a billion dollars doing it.”

Watershed Coordinator Diane Ercse said farmers can receive $25 per acre for cover crops, $6 per acre for nitrification inhibitors and will get a 50 percent cost-share for drainage water management such as wood-chip bioreactors or saturated buffers.

According to the Department of Agriculture, the project will implement and demonstrate the effectiveness and adaptability of a host of conservation practices including, but not limited to: cover crops, nutrient management, wetlands, terraces, bioreactors, buffer strips, no-till, strip-till, nitrogen inhibitors, extended rotations, conservation cover, drainage water management and manure management.

More than 30 partners from agriculture organizations, institutions of higher education, private industry, the local, state and federal government and others are working together on these projects.

“We think that by adding organic matter that the cover crops create, by controlling erosion with cover crops and holding the nitrogen in the soil for the next year’s crop there will be enough benefits that will pay off for farmers in addition to the water-quality element,” Northey said.

Ercse said she anticipates all of the money being used and is hopeful more funding will become available in the future.

“I’m talking with one our partners at Iowa Ag Water Alliance, and they are trying to figure out ways to add even more money,” Ercse said. “The Iowa Soybean Association would look at it as a match, and that would add $350,000. There’s more funding available, we’re just trying to figure our how it will work exactly.”

Northey said he knows how busy farmers are and how hard they work, but urged them to participate in the project.

“Get started,” Northey advised landowners. “Try one thing. One thing that works for you. This is the right thing to do for water quality, but for your operation you want to have experience. Five years from now you want to have had experience with cover crops to know how best to use it. We all can see that it’s coming. I believe it’s here to stay in a non-regulatory way, so find 40 acres, find 80 acres to be able to try this process.”