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Seeking better return on conservation investments

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Roger Wolf, director of Iowa Soybean Association Environmental Programs and Services, is helping to shape the 2018 Farm Bill as a member of an advisory team with the Heartland Waters Initiative through the McGraw Center for Conservation Leadership. (Photo: Joseph Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Carol Brown, ISA environmental communications specialist

Roger Wolf, director of Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) Environmental Programs and Services, is helping to shape the 2018 Farm Bill. He is a member of an advisory team with the Heartland Waters Initiative (HWI) through the McGraw Center for Conservation Leadership. The advisory team was challenged to advance ideas that seek a greater return on investment from precision conservation agricultural practices for the next USDA Farm Bill.

Wolf has been meeting with the HWI team since October 2015 – in person and via conference calls – to brainstorm and refine suggestions that would be the most impactful for Midwestern farmers and taxpayers. The advisory team is chaired by Alex Echols, who has worked for years writing policy for farm bills and is currently a consultant to help the conservation community and government get their best return on investments.

Using water to unite

The team published a white paper to inform policymakers of strategies that would improve water quality, increase conservation practices, and on-farm benefits.

“The white paper strategy revolves around the importance of water, as clean water resonates with everyone,” says Echols. “If we take care of water, it will take care of wildlife, which widens support for the issues.”

The report includes nine concerns facing farmers and landowners, suggestions to improve or mitigate those concerns, how the suggestions improve water and soil quality, and how they could be incorporated into the Farm Bill. Some of the suggestions include: targeted communication to absentee landowners, offering new sources of funding for conservation farming, and lengthening conservation enrollment contract times.

“The report was finalized and has been shared publicly this summer,” says Wolf. “We have begun sharing this conversation with those who will be working on Farm Bill policy.”  HWI shared the report initially in June at the One Water Summit in New Orleans, after just two years from the inaugural meeting of the team.

Iowa farmers and landowners benefit

“Wolf was a crucial part of the team,” Echols remarked. “He kept the perspective of ‘what’s good for the producer and the landowner’ in front of the team.”  Wolf believes that all the suggestions are important for Iowans and that they could benefit the most from using technology like GPS systems to target conservation practices and employing innovative financing mechanisms such as revolving loan funds targeting watersheds.

Echols says the overarching goal of the report is that “we find ways to improve profitability through conservation. We can’t count on more money for conservation so we need to get more return on the money we have. We also need to explore other mechanisms for financing conservation.” He used the example of the Tax Bill, as opposed to the Farm Bill, of where some of the white paper suggestions could be included.

An advisory team full of experts

“The advisory team brought together a diverse mix of perspectives and experiences, including people who worked on past Farm Bill conservation titles, wildlife interests, water industry, technology and agricultural production,” says Wolf.  Echols states that the team is comprised of “experts who understood economics, agriculture and conservation. We came to a smooth consensus on the top priorities to include in the report.”

Echols will be a participant at ISA’s Policy conference Dec. 14, at the Ankeny Courtyard Marriott hotel. He will provide more information on HWI and the white paper at the conference. 

The HWI report can be found at: http://mcgrawconservation.org/wp-content/uploads/McGraw-White-Paper-062617-FINAL.pdf

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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Iowa Soybean Review

August 2017 Contact Ann Clinton for past publications.