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Governor talks water quality in southwest Iowa

Article cover photo
Governor Kim Reynolds talks to Jeff Jorgenson and two local land owners Wednesday during a stop near Shenandoah. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Joseph L. Murphy, ISA senior communications manager

The Iowa legislature adjourned in April without a path toward long-term dedicated funding for water quality efforts in the state. Five months later Governor Kim Reynolds continues to push for action on the issue.

The governor met with a group of farmers and community leaders Wednesday outside of Shenandoah to discuss plans for funding legislation to meet the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

The initiative, developed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State University, seeks to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous loads to Iowa’s waters and the Gulf of Mexico from point and non-point sources by at least 45 percent.

“I hope that it’s the first bill I get to sign, and I literally mean that," Reynolds said. "There has been a lot of work from both houses to figure out a path forward and implement the strategy. There are always opportunities to enhance and to make it stronger, but our goal is to find a dedicated, long-term and growing revenue source."

Reynolds hopes that revenue will come from the appropriations of funds already being collected.

Jeff Jorgenson, Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) director from Sidney, invited the governor to the area after they both participated in the historic all-Iowa agriculture trade mission to China earlier this summer. He is in the process of working with landlords to add cover crops to ground that he farms.

"For me, as a district director for the ISA, a lot of it has to do with how I’m going to implement these practices on farms that I have," Jorgenson told the group. "I’m a tenant farmer for a lot of landowners. We are working together to make things happen."

Several regional landlords were at the event to discuss the benefits and drawbacks they have discovered while adding more conservation efforts on land they own.

Russ Loewe, a landowner near Sidney who rents to Jorgenson, said he’s always been concerned about the quality of the water.

“If you don’t have sustainable agriculture, you won’t survive,” Loewe said. “We’ve had cover crops for three years, and I think it is a good thing. Jeff and I have both been on the same page with it. It's not cheap to do, but if you can break even while keeping yields the same, it's kind of a no-brainer."

Jorgenson told the group that it’s important for farmers in southwest Iowa and across the state to implement conservation methods that improve water quality and soil health.

“We are doing more of a shotgun approach," Jorgenson said about conservation methods they are installing. "This year we are doing cover crops on many of the acres. It shows that as farmers we are ready to change. But at some point, you have to figure out who is going to help with the cost of these practices and how it is going to improve water quality."

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is designed to direct efforts to reduce nutrients in surface water from both point and nonpoint sources in a scientific, reasonable and cost-effective manner.

"We can’t be afraid of aggregating data,” Reynolds said. “To demonstrate to all of the world and the nation that we are doing the right thing," Reynolds said.

The ISA's Environmental Programs and Services (EPS) team has been involved with water monitoring initiatives and aggregating data for more than 15 years. EPS' primary strategy is to improve natural resource management practices and environmental quality, while also improving the competitiveness of Iowa soybean farmers. The team features experts in watershed planning, water monitoring, conservation planning and conservation drainage.

Earlier this year the Republican-controlled legislature, at a time of tight budgets and tax revenue, did not pass a water quality bill. It was a top priority of former Gov. Terry Branstad and then Lt. Gov. Reynolds along with many agricultural organizations.

The House and Senate each passed bills to provide additional financial support to implement practices to mitigate water pollution, but legislators couldn't come to a compromise on one bill.

State Senator Mark Costello (R-Imogene) traveled with Reynolds on Wednesday as she toured his district.

"I think it can happen next year, but it is easier to kill legislation than get something done," Costello said. "I think we feel the need to do something and hopefully we will be able to make some progress and get it done."

Reynolds believes momentum for water quality efforts in the state is escalating.

"I think there have been really positive conversations taking place from all the stakeholders as well as the legislators,” she said.

For permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos contact Aaron Putze at aputze@iasoybeans.com.

©2017 Iowa Soybean Association On-Farm Network®. All rights reserved. On-Farm Network® is a registered trademark of the Iowa Soybean Association, Ankeny, IA.Portions of some On-Farm Network trials are paid for in total or in part by the soybean checkoff.

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August 2017 Contact Ann Clinton for past publications.