DES MOINES, Iowa – One of the most persistent criticisms of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is its lack of numeric criteria to measure the success of conservation work. But that may soon change.
Last Thursday, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship made available $1.4 million dollars in statewide cost share funds for first-time users of conservation practices like cover crops or nitrification inhibitors later this fall.
The cost-share is just one component of IDALS’ Water Quality initative, which is guided by the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
A persistent criticism of the strategy, one that even EPA itself has brought up, concerns its lack of numeric criteria to measure the efficacy of producers’ voluntary contributions to the health of Iowa’s waters.
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey says IDALS is looking at a few ways to measure just how useful conservation practices are, including consistent measurement of water quality itself. But Northey says water quality alone wouldn’t tell the whole story.
“Other ways of measuring is: ‘How active are folks in doing the kinds of things that we know help water quality?’ So: how many acres of cover crops do we have? How many folks are splitting their nitrogen application? How many folks are putting on nitrogen later in the season, or more precisely, putting it on when that crop needs it? And, we’re starting to gather some of those numbers. We have some mechanisms for pieces of it. Obviously we know who participates in our programs, but we’re trying to make sure we learn who’s doing it on their own out there that doesn’t have a way where we’re catching them as working with our programs; after all, that’s where we hope we see real growth over time.”
Northey says the what is fairly straightfoward, but the how is a little more challenging.
“Likely, part of a solution would be surveys,” he explains. “We’d actually go and have surveys that tell us what our farmers say they’re doing. Maybe there’ll be a real effort to look at working with those service providers that are working with farmers, that are selling them fertilizer, that are potentially delivering seed for cover crops, and they help up report what’s being done out here.”