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Source: by Bethany Baratta, Iowa Soybean Association

Farmers use cover crops on their fields as a way to sequester nutrients. According to a INREC survey, farmers planted more than 2 million acres to cover crops in 2019. (Photo: Iowa Soybean Association)

To view the complete report, click here.

In Iowa, 2020 was a banner year for conservation adoption. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig shed light on farmers' work to expand their conservation efforts during a recent webinar hosted by Iowa Learning Farms.

The state invested $6.5 million in 2020 through cost-share programs. Private landowners matched that investment in building terraces, water and sediment control basins, grade stabilization projects and through the implementation of cover crops and grassed waterways.

"2020 was a record year when it comes to conservation adoption in the state," Naig says. "Never have we had more funding, focus, partners and awareness of what needed to be done across the state."

Naig says scaling up efforts through Water Quality Initiatives (WQI) boosted conservation adoption in Iowa.

"It's taken 15 years to build 100 wetlands and in one year we've got 44 in development," Naig says. The results are reflective of funding available through Senate File 512 as well as the collaboration and cooperation from farmers, local and state governments and other partners, he said.

There were 45 saturated buffers and bioreactors under development in 2020. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) enrolled 3,500 farmers and landowners in the state's Water Quality Initiative in 2020. Those farmers and landowners planted 585,000 acres of cover crops in 2020, but that doesn't account for cover crops planted using other funding sources or private investments.

Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) President Jeff Jorgenson hopes the momentum for the adoption of conservation practices grow in 2021.

"We hope IDALS hits a new record yet this year in what they're able to help initiate for conservation practices," Jorgenson says.

He's boosted conservation efforts on his farm, especially cover crops.

Grazing 110 cows on cover crops is working well because it lowers feed costs while also helping to sequester nutrients.

"The biggest thing is nutrient management," Jorgenson says. "We farm a lot of river bottom ground and a fair amount of highly erodible ground. We want to make sure nutrients stay in place for the crop we're going to grow."

Iowa farmers grew 2.18 million acres of cover crops in 2019, according to the most recent Iowa Nutrient Research & Education Council (INREC) survey.

Each conservation project helps the state move closer to its goals outlined in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. While 2020 was a banner year, the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture says the department isn't resting.

"Whatever we accomplished we can be proud of, but never satisfied," Naig says. "We want to accomplish twice as much in half the time. How do we reach farther and get better at doing what we're doing?"

Watch this video to learn more about the efforts in the state.

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