During the first conservation program signup of the 2018 Farm Bill, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service contracted with Iowa farmers and landowners to treat natural resource concerns on more than 315,000 acres, obligating $53 million in financial assistance.
NRCS also wrote 13,720 conservation plans during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The plans will help Iowa farmers reduce soil erosion, improve soil health and water quality, increase wildlife habitat, and treat other environmental issues.
Iowa NRCS financial assistance programs include the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
Fiscal year 2019 was another for the EQIP program. Through EQIP, NRCS obligated a record $36.6 million to treat 197,000 acres through 1,438 contracts in Iowa.
EQIP is a voluntary program that promotes agricultural production and environmental quality. Farmers can choose from a conservation practice list developed at the county level to treat local resource concerns.
Top EQIP practices adopted
Some of the top conservation practices adopted by Iowans through EQIP include:
- cover crops (262,000 acres for $10.5 million)
- no-till (50,900 acres for $657,000)
- terraces (1 million feet for $2.7 million)
- pasture and hay planting (9,766 acres for $1.7 million)
Top counties for EQIP
Several eastern Iowa counties led the state in EQIP funding, acres treated and total contracts:
- Fayette County led the state by obligating nearly $1.5 million to local farmers through 38 contracts, which will help treat resource concerns on 9,956 acres.
- Davis County led Iowa with 61 EQIP contracts, providing more than $1 million to help treat 8,638 acres.
- Jackson County is the state leader with 11,608 acres treated, obligating $1.2 million through 40 EQIP contracts.
Nearly one-quarter of the EQIP funding, or $8.7 million, assisted historically underserved customers such as beginning farmers, veterans, socially disadvantaged farmers and limited-resource producers.
Also, $5 million was obligated to Iowa farmers to fix ephemeral gullies through the Ephemeral Gully Erosion Pilot Project. Iowa farmers are treating about 16,300 acres with practices such as terraces, grassed waterways and critical area planting.
Through eight National Water Quality Initiative projects, NRCS obligated about $2 million to Iowa farmers in priority watersheds to improve water quality and aquatic habitats in impaired lakes and streams.
Kurt Simon, state conservationist for NRCS in Iowa, says his staff obligated $2 million more than last year in EQIP funding and 35% more than the prior five-year average. “We are helping farmers implement practices that incentivize improving soil conditions, with practices like no-till, cover crops and crop rotations,” he says. “We are also promoting management practices to help the state improve water quality, but that doesn’t diminish the need for more permanent solutions such as terraces and grassed waterways, too.”
Conservation Stewardship Program
Iowa NRCS obligated about $16.3 million through new CSP contracts during the past year. In fiscal year 2019, 412 Iowa farmers signed new five-year CSP contracts helping to treat 118,739 acres. CSP helps farmers build on existing conservation efforts by customizing a plan to meet conservation goals and needs.
Nutrient management, integrated pest management, cover crops and no-till were the top activities Iowa farmers contracted to apply through CSP. “Producers with stewardship program contracts are typically adopting practices that enhance some of the conservation practices they have already adopted,” Simon says. “These are farmers who care about their land, and those living and farming downstream.”
NRCS rolled out the new CSP Grassland Conservation Initiative in 2019, and 74 Iowa farmers signed up. The initiative rewards livestock producers for conserving eligible land through grassland conservation contracts. By signing five-year contracts, producers agree to meet or exceed stewardship requirements. Iowa NRCS obligated $183,493 in fiscal year 2019 through CSP-GCI.
Overall, Jackson County led Iowa in CSP with 36 contracts, totaling $1.6 million, which will treat 7,805 acres.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program
In fiscal year 2019, Iowa NRCS obligated $4.4 million through RCPP to treat natural resource concerns on 22,927 cropland acres. NRCS assisted producers through RCPP partnership agreements and 138 contracts.
RCPP promotes coordination between NRCS and its partners through agreements and program contracts. Currently, there are eight RCPP projects in Iowa focusing on improving water quality and soil health, implementing monarch butterfly and other wildlife habitat, and creating sustainable grain supply chains.