State ag leaders discuss multi-state conservation project

A multi-state conservation project received nearly $8 million to improve soil health and water quality and support landowners in the Western Lake Erie Basin.

These funds from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service are part of a Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director Bruce Kettler says the goal is “to reduce the dissolvable phosphorus that gets into our rivers and waterways that lead into Lake Erie and then also reduce sediment loading of sediment that comes off fields that would get into our waterways and go into Lake Erie.”

Audio: Bruce Kettler, Indiana

And, Michigan Agriculture Department Director Gary McDowell says the efforts to reduce phosphorus loading in Lake Erie by 40 percent by 2025 are on track.

“We’re part of the compact between us, Great Lakes states, and Ontario when this commitment was made to get the amount of phosphorus reduced,” he says.

Audio: Gary McDowell, Michigan

The Lake Erie Conservation Partnership is a five-year program awarded to the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA), Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), and The Ohio State University (OSU).

Kettler says it wouldn’t be possible without partners from the three states working together. 

“The waters that drain into Lake Erie are in three different states so you could probably make the argument that if either one of the three of us weren’t doing our part we may not have much of an impact,” he says. “The focus here being on the Maumee River for this particular project was decided between the three states and the partners involved. The partnership not only happens on that level, but the partnership we develop with farmers and landowners.”

Kettler says, in addition to funding from the NRCS, the 37 partners will contribute nearly $9.4 million in technical assistance.

“We’re talking about an impact of more than $17 million in what we can deliver to farmers and landowners,” he says. “We’ll be working to get conservation activities placed on the ground, on farms, and with landowners. So, that might be helping with projects in fields and providing technical assistance on cover crops, waterway construction, drainage, and more. The other part is educating both farmers and landowners about the importance of these projects and the importance of reducing phosphorus or sediment.”

McDowell tells Brownfield federal conservation support like the recently announced Regional Conservation Partnership Program grants are key in meeting goals.

“We’re on track if we continue to get this kind of support from the federal government,” he says.

McDowell says increasing the number of farmers participating in the state’s voluntary stewardship program, the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program, will also help improve water quality along with increased enrollments in the Conservation Easement Program. Legislation funding the MAEAP program is set to expire this year and McDowell says work also continues to raise awareness and support with lawmakers for it to continue.

USDA is investing a total of $23.2 million in three Regional Conservation Partnership Programs in the Western Lake Erie Basin. All RCPP projects are based on public and private partnerships, which create more opportunities for conservation efforts on the ground and new avenues to reach producers and landowners.

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