Iowa: National Leader
Iowa continues to lead the nation in production of corn, soybeans, hogs, and eggs. Iowa is seventh in cattle and ninth in turkey production. As a result, Iowa had an estimated $30 billion dollars in direct sales of agriculture products in 2011, up from $12 billion in 2002 according to USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service. The state has also become the leader in renewable energy production. Iowa is the nation’s top ethanol producer with 41 ethanol refineries with the capacity to produce nearly 3.7 billion gallons annually. In addition, Iowa is first in biodiesel production, with 12 biodiesel facilities with the capacity to produce 315 million gallons annually. Iowa is second nationally in wind generation output and is the leader in the percentage of the state’s industry that comes from wind generation at 20 percent. Alternative and specialty crop production is also increasing in the state, with Iowa now home to more than 220 farmers markets that had 38.4 million in sales in 2009.
Protecting Natural Resources
Iowans can take pride in successful conservation initiatives through the Conservation Cost Share Program, the Watershed Protection Program, the Integrated Farm and Livestock Demonstration Program, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, the Ag Drainage Well Closure Program, and the District Initiatives Program. These innovative programs are a few of the conservation initiatives that have helped produce milestones such as 500,000 acres of conservation buffers, 100 miles of cold water stream protection, 50 years both of conservation education and watershed protection in partnership with a variety of other state and federal agencies, 50,000 acres of restored wetlands, 50 percent of crops in conservation tillage, over 100 water quality projects, 100 years of building diversity in wildlife habitat, and over $200 million in state cost sharing for conservation. This investment has also resulted in an additional $200 million plus in investment by landowners to match state funds.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has also recently begun to focus helping urban areas better manage the rain that falls on their property to prevent erosion and protect water quality. Urban Conservationists help communities and homeowners install new systems and retrofit existing infrastructure in a way that will move the water off our streets and private property while keeping soil and pollutants out of our waterways.
The Department has also been expanding efforts to build Water Quality Wetlands through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). These highly targeted, strategically placed wetlands reduce nitrate loading by more than 50%.
Throughout Iowa, 72 CREP wetlands have been restored or are currently under development, providing water quality benefits to 86,000 acres of land by removing over 54,000 tons of nitrates over their lifetime. These 72 targeted restorations total over 700 acres of wetlands plus over 2,500 acres of surrounding native prairie buffers. In addition to improving water quality, these wetlands provide high quality wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.
The effectiveness of these wetlands were recognized by the Gulf of Mexico Program, which is underwritten by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is dedicated to protecting, restoring and maintaining the health and productivity of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.
Use of the Iowa Water Quality Loan Fund has also grown significantly in recent years. The fund provides low-cost financing to help landowners address nonpoint pollution of Iowa streams and lakes. These low-interest loans target practices to reduce sediment and nutrient runoff from agricultural operations, such as terraces, grade stabilization structures, water and sediment control basins, hoop buildings, manure storage structures and prescribed grazing.
Iowa has 100 soil and water conservation districts (SWCD) that carry out soil conservation and water quality protection programs at the local level. Iowans’ vision for agriculture includes farmers and their neighbors working together to understand shared needs for productive and profitable agriculture and a quality environment. Iowa’s soil and water conservation districts are a focal point for sharing ideas, solving agricultural land environmental problems, and coordinating federal and state programs to assist farmers and communities.
The Division of Soil Conservation within the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has provided support to the conservation districts for the past 50 years through staffing, financial incentive programs, and funding for commissioner expenses and field office operations.