Iowa ag secretary confident plan will work

Iowa agriculture secretary Bill Northey is confident that the state’s new nutrient reduction strategy that was unveiled this week will produce better results than previous efforts to reduce nutrient runoff.

“This is much more aggressive in looking at the science and saying, ‘how would we use cover crops—where would we use them—what can be expected in each of these areas we’re talking about,” Northey says.

Those areas include nutrient application rates, timing and method, plus edge of field practices such as wetlands and buffers, just to name a few.

And Northey says there will be a greater effort to convince farmers to voluntarily adopt new practices.

“Over the next three or four months here, Iowa State University has about 500 Extension meetings that they’ll have exposed to tens of thousands of farmers,” he says. “They’re going to talk about this at those meetings.”

But will it all be enough to appease the federal EPA and fend off possible federal regulations in the future?

“We don’t know what the future holds—but I certainly think there’s more chance of success if we get tens of thousands of farmers thinking about how we can do a better job, (rather) than having tens of thousands of farmers thinking how they can get around regulations,” Northey says.

One of the first farm groups to express its support for the nutrient reduction plan was the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA).

ISA president Mark Jackson, a farmer from Rose Hill, says the draft strategy is a science and technology-based approach that recognizes the diversity of the state’s topography and complexities of individual watersheds.   Rather than pursuing a costly, one-size-fits-all approach to improving water quality, Jackson says, the plan recognizes and seeks to duplicate on a larger scale effective, voluntary practices in conjunction with research, development and demonstration of new approaches.

“Every Iowan lives in a watershed,” says Jackson. “Therefore, any effort to improve water quality must be holistic, pragmatic and involve multiple stakeholders including agriculture, industry and municipalities.

“The plan unveiled today meets those criteria as we work together to make water quality improvements in Iowa and downstream to the Gulf of Mexico.”

The nutrient reduction strategy was prompted by a 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan that calls for 12 states along the Mississippi River to reduce nutrient loadings to the Gulf of Mexico.  Iowa’s plan calls for a 45 percent reduction in total riverine nitrogen and phosphorous loadings.

Iowans can review the strategy and provide feedback through January 4, 2013. To review the full report, access additional information and offer comments, click here.

AUDIO: Bill Northey (9:49 MP3)

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