Northey urges support of nutrient strategy

Posted March 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm

By Pete Temple, Express Sports/Ag Editor

As farmers across the State of Iowa contemplate the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and what its implications might be for their operations, one thing is clear.

Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has bought in.

Northey visited the Lawrence Community Center in Anamosa Tuesday, March 12 to speak to Farm Bureau members about the strategy and to take questions.

As other agriculture officials have noted in similar seminars across the state, the gist is this: volunteer to regulate yourself or risk being regulated.

It was a recurring message from Northey as he addressed the 25 members of the audience.

“I think we really have two choices,” he said. “We try and figure out how to do these (practices) on our farms, or the regulators come and tell us what to do.”

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, according to an Iowa State University pamphlet, “is a science and technology-based framework to assess and reduce nutrients delivered to Iowa waters and the Gulf of Mexico. It is designed to direct efforts to reduce nutrients in surface water from both point and nonpoint sources in a scientifically-supported, reasonable and cost-effective manner.”

Northey said that by volunteering to change certain practices, farmers can have a positive impact and ward off regulation.

“This is about giving farmers choices about what to do,” he said. “We figure out how, or regulation can tell us how. We have to do something, or face the risk of somebody coming in with a government solution.”

There are a number of practices that farmers can use to help reduce the runoff of nutrients into the water.

Management systems include timing, application rate and the planting of cover crops such as rye and oats. Land use practices include extended rotations and grazed pastures. Edge-of-field options include shallow drainage, buffers and more.

“Producers can figure out what works on their farms,” Northey said.

Northey said he hopes the Iowa Legislature buys in as well. The Iowa Department of Agriculture has made a request for $2.4 million to support the strategy. Those funds would be used for a coordinator position, education efforts, demonstration areas and more.

“We’re getting a lot of good response,” Northey said.

In answering a question from the audience, Northey acknowledged that those funds won’t put much of a dent in the problem.

“We don’t want to give the impression that it fixes it, but it establishes a framework,” he said. “It’s a good start.”

He also pointed out that Iowa is taking the lead in nutrient reduction.

“Nobody has done anything like what we’re doing,” he said.

Another aspect that the Iowa Department of Agriculture has implemented is Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award. Northey said more than 60 farmers were nominated for the award last year; he is hoping for hundreds this time around.

Northey said the media’s depiction of farmers and agriculture is often negative, and said the award can help change that perception.

“We need to tell the good stories,” he said. “We need to recognize folks who are doing a good thing.”

Finally, Northey said farmers can ease into changes.

“Don’t do anything on huge amounts of acres,” he said. “Just play with it. You don’t have to change everything. You still have to make a living. This is a long-term thing.”

The goal, he said, is for farmers to make an impact before regulators have to.

“We don’t want to set up a framework where future regulation happens,” Northey said.