Rod Snyder, EPA Agriculture advisor; Iowa Secretary of

Rod Snyder, EPA Agriculture advisor; Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Naig; U.S. EPA assistant administrator for office of water Radhika Fox; Roger Wolf, Iowa Soybean Association’s Research Center for Farming Innovation director and Dan Dix, president of ACWA / general manager of NEW Cooperative gather after the EPA announced $60 million in funding to support nutrient reduction efforts through the Gulf Hypoxia Program. (Photo credit: Kriss Nelson/Iowa Soybean Association).

A $60 million boost to water quality efforts

June 16, 2022 | Kriss Nelson

Late last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced $60 million in funding to help support nutrient reduction efforts through the Gulf Hypoxia Program – directly impacting 12 states, including Iowa.

“The Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico watershed is an iconic system that millions of Americans rely on for drinking water, food production, recreation and economic development,” says Radhika Fox, EPA assistant administrator for water. “We also know the area is challenged with nutrient pollution that degrades water quality and puts communities at risk.”

Nutrient pollution, Fox says, has created one of the largest dead zones in the world, killing essential ecosystems and suppressing economic opportunities. Making collaborative work by the Hypoxia Task Force crucial.

“It’s a phenomenal platform, she says. “We are excited at EPA to announce we have $60 million dedicated to the work of the Hypoxia Task Force of the 12 basin states. These are resources that are being provided through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”

The funding announced is important to help states accelerate the adoption of conservation practices in their priority watersheds, says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.

“You can have a strategy in your state, but you have to have the resources you need to implement those plans,” Naig says. “States like Iowa have implemented and developed nutrient reduction strategies based on their landscapes. They are best positioned as states to decide how to deploy resources and prioritize activities.”

With $60 million over the next five years, the Hypoxia Task Force will accelerate its work on the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan. The funding will expand and enhance capacity of the states to improve water quality in the Gulf and throughout the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin. To support the work of the task force, EPA will deepen its existing collaborations with the agricultural community, seek new partnerships and identify and elevate examples of producer innovation, according to Fox.

“This is an unprecedented amount of investment we are going to be able to make,” says Fox. “It is incredible these resources are coming to support collaboration of partnerships already in place. I feel so confident with these resources, we are going to supercharge toward the goal of 20% nutrient reduction, which the task force has set by 2025.”

Naig, who co-chairs the task force with Fox, says protecting soil health and water quality in Iowa is a top priority.

“We are heavily focused on accelerating the adoption of conservation practices and, in the process, also identifying innovative practices, new partnerships and new ways to deliver those conservation practices to advance our water quality goals,” Naig says.

Practices, including bioreactors, saturated buffers, and oxbow restorations, Naig says, are great examples of how public and private partnerships work together to advance nutrient reduction strategies across the region.

“When we talk about conservation here at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, we talk a lot about partners,” says Naig. “We couldn’t do it without our partners at USDA (Natural Resources Conservation Services), our friends at soil and water conservation districts, local governments, Iowa State University, businesses, associations and wildlife groups. It’s a group effort.”

Commodity associations, including the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), have been working to help farmers meet goals set forth by the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and the task force.

Roger Wolf, director of ISA’s Research Center for Farming Innovation, says the announced EPA funding will further help ag retailers and other partners that have already been engaged in assisting farmers in scaling up conservation practices.

“It’s consistent with what we have been doing in Iowa,” Wolf says.  “It recognizes the progress we’ve made and the work we need to do.”

Dan Dix, president of the Agriculture’s Clean Waters Alliance and general manager of NEW Cooperative of Fort Dodge, says protecting Iowa’s landscape has always been a high priority for Iowa’s producers.

“Iowa farmers have been blessed with some of the richest soil on the planet, and they want to leave it better than they got it,” says Dix. “That’s what they try to do every day.”

Dix is appreciative of the $60 million funding.

“Any help is welcome,” he says. “Farmers realize they have a stake in this game, and today, more than ever, everybody needs to work together to find the cleanest way to produce food.”

Brent Renner, ISA at-large director and farmer near Klemme in Hancock County is pleased with the announcement and the potential it can bring to further conservation efforts.

Renner utilizes strip tillage, buffer strips and wetlands on his soybean, corn, and alfalfa farm where he also runs a cow-calf operation.

“I think the timing is right for us to take advantage of these funds to implement some changes in our practices that can also facilitate real progress and change in regard to water quality and nutrient runoff,” he says.

Renner is hopeful funding will be used to help producers with cover crop management.

“I know a lot of producers are uncomfortable with trying cover crops,” he says. “It takes patience and management to overcome some of the challenges they present.”

Renner says putting some of the $60 million toward new practices, such as side-dressing manure into standing corn rather than applying it in the fall, can make a difference.

“Those are the things I am trying to figure out how to do and am excited about the potential that exists,” he says.

Last week’s announcement includes a memorandum guiding states under the new program – providing information on how EPA will award and administer funds, highlighting priorities for nutrient reduction, and providing flexibility for state-specific activities.

“Task force states appreciate the announcement, and it is a continuation of the concept of what we are built around, which is state-led efforts, federally supported,” says Naig.

EPA expects states will scale up the implementation of nutrient reduction strategies while engaging local communities in planning nutrient reduction projects to ensure that the water quality benefits of this program are also realized by disadvantaged communities. Fox says these projects will also support the use of conservation practices that are resilient and adaptable to changing climate conditions. 

“We are ensuring all communities across the basin states, including disadvantaged communities, benefit from these investments,” says Fox. “What is incredible about these resources is we will be able to invest in conservation practices that help our farmers thrive while protecting water quality. It’s an incredible moment, and I can’t wait to see the work that unfolds in over the next five years.”