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Farmers Work to Improve Water Quality

Farmers Work to Improve Water Quality

Concerned about water quality, farmers are putting new technologies and production practices to work to help improve water quality throughout the state.

With 71,665 miles of streams and rivers and more than 161,000 acres of lakes, ponds and wetlands, Iowa is rich in water resources. Iowa farmers are concerned with water quality and are implementing new technologies and production practices to improve water quality throughout the state.

Since 1987, Iowa's erosion rate is down 33%, meaning less soil, nitrogen and phosphorous are reaching Iowa waterways, according to the USDA National Resources Inventory. This reduction is because farmers are implementing voluntary programs on their farms to reduce soil erosion.

"Corn farmers believe in protecting our water resources. We use soil and water conservation practices and new technology to reduce runoff into our waterways. By implementing new management practices we've been able to produce more corn and reduce our environmental impact," says Jay Lynch, a farmer from Humboldt and chair of the Iowa Corn Growers Association's Animal Agriculture and Environment committee.

Conservation practices help produce more with less impact

Corn production from 1987-2007 grew 83%, but new production practices, advanced technologies and more have allowed corn farmers to produce significantly more corn with a smaller environmental footprint.

Over the past several decades, Iowa farmers have implemented conservation practices that have reduced erosion, runoff and sedimentation into Iowa's water resources. These conservation practices include: soil testing, nutrient management planning, tillage and crop residue management, crop rotation and precision agriculture techniques.

Iowa farmers have more conservation practices in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program than any other state in the nation. Iowa has more than 597,000 acres enrolled in CREP, and represents almost 13% of total acres in the CREP program.

A recent study by the Center for Ag & Rural Development at ISU shows that Iowans invest about $345 million annually in conservation practices. The investment includes average statewide costs of $37 million for selected Iowa conservation structures and annual payments of about $175 million to farmers for acres set aside as part of the Conservation Reserve Program. Iowa farmers have also voluntarily restored more than 250,000 acres of wetlands.

Farm use less fertilizer inputs and have reduced erosion

According to USDA data, farmer's use of nitrogen and phosphorus per bushel have been drastically reduced over the past 25 years. Since 1980, nitrogen fertilizer application rates per bushel have declined by 38.3% and phosphorus application rates per bushel have declined by 52.4%. Since 1996, fertilizer application rates have been less than 1.1 pounds per bushel or less. Most recently, data shows the application rate is 0.97 pounds of fertilizer per bushel. Since 2004 voluntary watershed practices now collectively reduce sediment reaching Iowa's waters by 130,947 tons per year and reduce phosphorus by 202,312 pounds per year. The U.S. Geological Service found declining levels of 11 herbicides and insecticides in Iowa and other Corn Belt waterways from 1996 to 2006. Scientists credit better management practices and advancements.

Iowa farmers through their corn checkoff have invested several million dollars in research regarding nitrogen use efficiency. Over the past eight years, checkoff funded researchers have been working through biotechnology to insert a gene into the corn plant that will require at least 20% less nitrogen per bushel. This means the plant will be more productive with less nitrogen. The nitrogen will not get into our waterways and our carbon footprint will decrease.

The Iowa Corn Promotion Board works to develop and defend markets, fund research and provide education about corn and corn products. The Iowa Corn Growers Association is a membership organization lobbying on ag issues on behalf of its 6,400 farmer members. Both organizations work on the joint mission to create opportunities for long-term Iowa corn grower profitability.

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