(Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)
Growing popularity in partner-driven conservation enhances natural resources
February 9, 2023 | Brock Johnston
With conservation funding assistance and public-private collaboration on the rise, it’s no surprise Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects awarded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) are quickly becoming a popular option for farmers and landowners to meet their stewardship goals.
“RCPP is a partner-driven approach to conservation,” says Ben Porepp, conservation agronomist at the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA). Through the program, NRCS co-invests with partners, including commodity groups, ag retailers, city municipalities and others, to implement projects that provide solutions to conservation challenges on agricultural land in priority watersheds in Iowa.
“Currently, there are nine unique RCPP projects active in Iowa,” says Porepp. The number of projects is expected to grow as the adoption of conservation practices climbs in the state, including cover crop integration.
“Every RCPP is variable in the practices made available to implement, but a vast majority will offer cover crop cost-share, no-till, strip-till and basic edge-of-field techniques,” says Porepp. Additional opportunities can include buffer strips, habitat restoration and more.
These practices, supported by years of research, will also help the state of Iowa meet its obligations under the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy to reduce nitrate loading to the Mississippi River.
North Raccoon Watershed
One RCPP covering the North Raccoon Watershed — the North Raccoon Partnership for Soil and Water Outcomes — is using the partner-backed approach to improve soil health and water quality resulting in reduced nutrient and sediment volumes.
ISA, alongside 11 partner organizations, including ag retailers, federal and state agencies, and the City of Des Moines, partnered in 2021 to establish conservation practices and systems collaboratively with farmers and landowners. The effort aimed to deliver measurable improvements and outcomes for water quality and soil health.
Initiated in 2021, the project boundary spans 10 Iowa counties, including portions of Boone, Buena Vista, Calhoun, Carroll, Dallas, Greene, Pocahontas, Polk, Sac and Webster.
“Our main resource concerns in the North Raccoon is nitrate exports from the watershed — nutrient leaching impacting water quality,” says Porepp. “Soil erosion and habitat restoration also top the list of areas we’re seeking to improve by working directly with farmers, landowners and other watershed stakeholders, both upstream and downstream, to make these improvements.”
These efforts are made possible through more than $16 million in partner contributions, leveraged with $9.8 million in RCPP funds.
To date, the North Raccoon Partnership for Soil and Water Outcomes RCPP has awarded 13 contracts within the project boundary, totaling more than $250,000. An estimated 47 additional applications were received in 2022, kicking the project off toward the goals of adopting:
- 50,000 additional cover crop acres;
- 19,200 acres of reduced tillage;
- 22 bioreactors;
- 20 oxbow wetland restorations;
- 25 saturated buffers; and
- 5 nutrient removal wetlands.
Cedar River Watershed
The Cedar River Watershed, spanning portions of 23 eastern Iowa counties, has also been identified as a priority watershed for similar water quality improvements. With ISA and additional partner support, the City of Cedar Rapids is leading efforts to improve water quality, protect drinking water and mitigate flood risk through the Cedar River Source Water Partnership.
The project aims to establish in-field practices in tandem with edge-of-field practices to improve water quality, reduce flood risk and greenhouse gas emissions, and protect source water. Drought resilience, reduced erosion and improved soil health are additional benefits from implementing these strategies.
ISA Conservation Agronomist Evan Brehm, positioned within the watershed at ag retailer Linn Cooperative, says ISA’s team of conservation agronomists can assist farmers in finding the right opportunities for meeting unique stewardship and profitability goals.
“RCPP project boundaries often overlap in geography and can offer different conservation strategies,” Brehm says. “Our team serves as a resource network, providing assistance and support to help stakeholders understand what opportunities are available to them.”
Farmers and landowners interested in establishing practices in 2023 through all RCCP projects statewide should apply by Friday, March 17. Sign up and financial assistance are administrated through local NRCS offices. Contact your local conservation agronomist or soil and water conservation district for assistance. Applications from farmers and landowners residing in the North Raccoon River Watershed will continue to be accepted in an ongoing sign up. Applications received after the March 17 deadline will be eligible for consideration at a future date.
Interested in learning more about these opportunities? Contact Ben Porepp, ISA conservation agronomist at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-802-2264.