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Iowa Unveils Nutrient Reduction Plan

Iowa officials rolled out a new plan Monday to champion voluntary measures to help reduce nutrient runoff, including ways to scale back runoff from farms.

Previous plans to reduce nutrient releases into Iowa waters have failed several times. That's because those efforts focused either on point-source or non-point-sources, but not both. The plan is four years in the making after the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Iowa in 2008 to develop a plan to reduce nutrient runoff.

"We realized that it had to focus on both," said Chuck Gipp, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Iowa officials rolled out their latest strategy in a news conference on Monday at the State Capitol. Yet, the Iowa Nutrient Strategy has already come under fire from members of Gipp's own staff at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources who have said the plan falls short of what is needed to reduce nutrients statewide. The Des Moines Register reported last week that a leaked copy of a draft included bits of information that resemble position statements from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. The Register cited specific provisions about nutrient runoff that resemble Farm Bureau's position paper on the topic. http://dld.bz/…

Gipp lambasted the Register story when asked about the Farm Bureau's input on what was a draft document not intended for public release.

"DNR is completely behind this," he said.

"It is unfortunate that the earlier story pre-empted the draft today. Regardless of the source, that is not the story."

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said he hopes the plan gets beyond political divide.

"Instead of pointing the finger at each other, we're trying to work together to have a thoughtful plan," he said.

"Iowans care about our natural resources and want to protect them for future generations. This strategy keeps us at the forefront of using voluntary, science-based practices to improve water quality in our state, and is an important step forward."

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said when it comes to non-point-source runoff, the proposed plan is to expand conservation practices statewide.

"This is a significant day," Northey said. "This is a meaningful step to get the practices on the ground. Iowa farmers continue to aggressively implement new conservation practices. The driving force of this focused effort is on best-management practices. This also looks at new and emerging technologies.

"This is not about rules and regulations. This is about giving farmers tools."

More than 16,000 new practices have been implemented by Iowa farmers since 2007, Northey said, on more than 220,000 acres.

With non-point-sources including farming operations, the plan focuses on setting priorities, documenting progress, research and technology, strengthening outreach, education, collaboration and funding.

"This strategy provides the most up-to-date scientific information available to farmers as they seek to use the best practices available to reduce nutrient delivery from their farm," Northey said.

AGRICULTURE 'DIFFERENT'

The plan said any policy involving agriculture "must be different" from any plans to reduce nutrient discharges from Iowa's 130 major cities and industries.

"The target load reductions for non-point sources is 41% of statewide total nitrogen and 29% of the total phosphorous to meet the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan goal," the plan said.

"Iowa has nutrient-rich landscapes, and significant progress towards these large nutrient reduction targets will take considerable time, effort and funding sources."

Yet, it would take a dramatic increase in overall conservation practices to achieve significant reductions in nitrogen loads. As much as 8 million crop acres in Iowa may be tiled, particularly in north-central Iowa. If cover crops were used on all corn-soybean rotations, it would reduce nitrogen runoff 28% and phosphorus by 50%, according to an analysis conducted by Iowa State University. That information was released earlier this year when the federal Hypoxia Task Force met in Des Moines.

The possible nutrient reduction practices identified include nitrogen and phosphorous management, erosion control and land use, and edge of field. Management practices include nutrient application rates, timing and method, plus the use of cover crops and living mulches.

Land-use practices include perennial energy crops, extended rotations, tillage methods, grazed pastures, land retirement and terraces. Edge of field involves drainage water management, wetlands, bioreactors, buffers and sediment control.

Mark Jackson, president of the Iowa Soybean Association, said in a statement that the strategy is better than pursuing an expensive, one-size-fits-all approach.

"Every Iowan lives in a watershed," he said. "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."

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