Wallaces Farmer

Soil health and water quality efforts have increased in state but more are sought.

Betty Haynes

September 7, 2022

2 Min Read
Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance executive director Sean McMahon and Iowa Corn Promotion Board at-large director Roger Zylstra
WORKING TOGETHER: Sean McMahon (left) with Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance and Roger Zylstra (right), Iowa Corn Promotion Board at-large director, listen as Ag Secretary Mike Naig explains the importance of the Iowa Conservation Infrastructure Initiative and how it helps improve water quality. Betty Haynes

During the Farm Progress Show back in 2016, the Iowa Conservation Infrastructure Initiative — a 100-partner program tasked with finding solutions and removing barriers to scaling up Iowa’s soil health and water quality efforts — was launched.

The initiative was started by the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the IAWA Business Council. Now, after its first six years, both public awareness and infrastructure has improved.

The Iowa Conservation Infrastructure Initiative has surpassed 350 public and private partners, but it’s encouraging the private sector to see the business opportunities available in increased farmer demand for conservation practices. Recently, Google announced at the Iowa State Fair that it’s investing in conservation in the state.

“We need to harness economic drivers and create market-based solutions to improve water quality,” says IAWA Executive Director Sean McMahon. “We realized that as we scale up conservation practices, we create jobs and economic development opportunities for rural Iowa communities and Iowa cities.”

Increased participation

Although the initiative was initially about leveraging the expertise of partners to increase nutrient reduction strategy adoption, there has been an accelerated participation in strategies like edge-of-field practices, saturated buffers, bioreactors, wetlands and cover crop programs.

“There has never been more awareness, more resources, more partners and more actual work getting done in the state of Iowa than there is today,” says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “And that is saying something, because we have had a long history of investing in conservation.”

Expanding conservation efforts while navigating the volatility of the last several years has been no easy task.

“We’ve seen some very unique challenges to say the least,” Naig says. “What’s encouraging to me is that despite the pandemic, supply-chain disruptions, inflation impacts and a weather whiplash, we have seen record engagement in our conservation programs.”

Dedicated partners from across Iowa — federal, state, soil conservation districts and the private sector — have come to the table to work with farmers and landowners on conservation efforts.

“Because of these programs, we have become more aware of the challenges we knew we had and the solutions to those problems,” says Roger Zylstra, at-large director of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board. “On our farm, we have become very involved in cover crops and no-till. They are solutions that work.”

Farmers are continuously seeking new ways to keep their farms both environmentally and financially sustainable for generations to come. The role soil health and water quality play in farm viability are just the beginning of the conservation conversation.

“The bottom line is we’re not satisfied,” Naig says. “There’s more work to be done, and we are incredibly focused on accelerating and scaling up.”

Haynes is a Farm Progress field editor.

About the Author(s)

Betty Haynes

Betty Haynes is the associate editor of Prairie Farmer. She grew up on a Menard County, Ill., farm and graduated from the University of Missouri. Most recently, Betty worked for the Illinois Beef Association, entirely managing and editing its publication.

She and her husband, Dan, raise corn, soybeans and cattle with her family near Oakford , Ill., and are parents to Clare.

Betty won the 2023 Andy Markwart Horizon Award, 2022 Emerging Writer, and received Master Writer designation from the Ag Communicators Network. She was also selected as a 2023 Young Leader by the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists.

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