(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association)

ACWA highlights growth in report

July 1, 2022 | Jeff Hutton

The power of water, its relationship to Iowa’s ag landscape, locations downstream and the conservation efforts to protect this natural resource, continues to be the focus of Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance (ACWA).

ACWA recently released its 2021 Annual Report citing “considerable growth over the past year. In addition to expanding statewide, ACWA increased water monitoring and strategically placed conservation agronomists as they work to evolve Iowa farmland for improved water quality while also “restructuring internally to enhance the return-on-investment to its members and to attract new members.”

ACWA Executive Director Roger Wolf says he is pleased with the efforts and progress demonstrated in the report.

“It’s a direct result of the members investing time and energy figuring out how we address those barriers in agriculture,” Wolf says.

Innovate & Sustain

In 2021, ACWA completed its strategic plan. As part of the planning process, three Core Pillars were established: Leader & Advocate, Innovate & Sustain and Science to Solutions.

Within the pillar framework, ACWA cites advancements in increased conservation practices, including farmer outreach, improved nutrient management and more. Among the results:

  • 100% of members reported implementing the ACWA’s Code of Practice requirements (e.g., delaying fall anhydrous application without a nitrification inhibitor until soil temperatures are 50 degrees and trending lower)
  • 82% utilized the Iowa State University NPK Knowledge website, tracking soil temperatures
  • 40 edge-of-field practices enrolled in cost-share programs
  • 245,000+ pounds of nitrogen loss reduced
  • 8,616 pounds of phosphorus loss reduced

“It’s exciting to look back,” says ACWA Board Treasurer Thomas Fawcett from Heartland Cooperative in West Des Moines.

One of ACWA’s strengths this past year was 100% of members implementing ACWA’s Code of Practices methods, including “self-reporting and holding each other accountable to the best management practices” in assisting farmers, Fawcett says.

The report highlights the efforts of its seven conservation agronomists in the state, as they aid farmers with planting, weed and pest management, and harvesting while stressing the importance of nutrient management, erosion control and building up soil health.

Increasing the need for conservation agronomists to work parallel with sales agronomists has proven to be a successful component of ACWA’s mission.

“The collaborative effort between the sales agronomist and conservation agronomist to develop best practices is key to protecting Iowa’s water resources while balancing the needs of farmers,” Fawcett says.

ACWA leaders want to expand the Conservation Agronomist Network in the next fiscal year, citing it as one of the most valuable returns on investment for members.

“Access to expertise and cost-sharing funding are keys to success for our farmers,” Fawcett says. “ACWA is good at bringing a network of ag retailers together to support each other so we can support our growers in adopting conservation practices.”

All these efforts will continue in the new work plan, Wolf agrees.

“We intend to secure new ACWA members and expand our program’s offerings by growing support for conservation agronomists,” he says. “Our internal work groups provide a strong leadership voice as we implement the work plan and continue to evolve.”

Coming together

The ACWA was established in 1999 by a group of fertilizer dealers brought together to discuss the high nitrate levels in the Raccoon River in western Iowa.

Twenty-three years later, ACWA has grown in its efforts to not only find solutions to concerns related to the Raccoon and Des Moines River watersheds but also expand its focus on other areas of the state (Boone River, Cedar River, Skunk River and the South Fork of Crooked Creek, for example), while still working with farmers on their needs.

“There are a lot of groups who are doing good things,” Wolf says. “What makes ACWA unique is the horsepower it has and the investment in really connecting with its role with farmers in the field. ACWA is uniquely positioned to be that trusted resource for the farmer.”

Whether it is the past year, the past two decades or looking into the future, Wolf says the annual report reflects positively on what ACWA has been doing and will continue to do:

“It’s amplifying (ACWA’s) impact in terms of its footprint, helping retailers find a very specific role it plays in helping farmers improve water quality and soil health,” he says. “ACWA’s efforts could be very key to scaling up these practices across Iowa.”

The progress made thus far is commensurate with the investments made, ACWA leaders agree.

“We’ve proven so far that it’s vitally important for ag retail to be engaged with farmers regarding conservation,” says Fawcett. “What’s most exciting for me is that the engagement results in more value for farmers.”

For more information about ACWA and to read the complete annual report, visit www.acwaiowa.com.