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100
engaged partner organizations in the Conservation Infrastructure Initiative
110,000
acres treated across Iowa by bioreactors, saturated buffers, and CREP wetlands in 2017
973,100
acres of cover crops planted across Iowa in 2017

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Conservation Infrastructure Recommendations

Identifying Barriers and Addressing the Gaps

The three Conservation Infrastructure (CI) Initiative Working Groups reviewed and evaluated the political, environmental, social, technical, legal, and economic issues and external forces associated with conservation infrastructure at multiple scales. Working Groups were then able to identify the most important barriers that need to be addressed and gaps that need to be closed to help advance the CI initiative Vision and Definition of Success through specific recommendations.

Making Conservation Practices Economically Compelling

Originally 49 recommendations were drafted and presented at the 2017 CI Conference. Following the conference, two recommendations were combined with complementary recommendations resulting in a total of 47 across the three Working Groups. All the recommendations were written with the CI Vision and Definition of Success in mind for making conservation practices economically compelling and easier for farmers and landowners to implement. Many of the recommendations incorporate the actions that are already in progress throughout the state.

Communications

(1) Tracking CI Progress

Develop and share a semi-annual dashboard to track the progress of CI recommendations, activities, and results that are focused on achieving the Iowa NRS goals.

Research

(3) Business Infrastructure Needs Assessment

Survey existing conservation related businesses and entrepreneurs to evaluate existing barriers to entry and expansion. Conduct a needs assessment regarding access to capital and equipment, business planning, advertising, technical training, etc.

Research

(4) Economic Impact Scenarios

IDALS, IAWA, and IEDA collaborate with other stakeholders to analyze the economic impacts that varying levels of conservation practice implementation will deliver for local communities, counties, and the state.

Funding

(8) Sustainable Funding

Secure public and private sector resources, including financing, to leverage public funding to provide adequate financial assistance, technical assistance, watershed planning, water quality monitoring, communications, and outreach to implement the Iowa NRS.

Research

(10) Evaluate Public and Private Benefits of Conservation Practices

Conduct a study on the benefits of conservation practices conferred to farmers, private landowners, downstream users, and the public. The study should include a component on how conservation practices factor in Life Cycle Analyses (LCA) and environmental footprints for food and agricultural value chain products. The LCA will be used to inform the supply chain of socio-economic benefits and opportunities to invest in local conservation efforts. The public-private benefits study will be used to inform the appropriate levels of cost-share associated with practices.

Funding

(11) Conservation Practice Funding Analysis

IDALS, IAWA, and other interested stakeholders engage IEDA to assess the economic development benefits and public-private partnership funding opportunities and their potential impact on adoption of conservation practices that lead to improved water quality and flood control for downstream communities.

Research

(12) Watershed Planning Capacity Assessment

Assess the state's current public-private capacity to create effective watershed plans and adjust resources to fully support (or increase) that capacity. The assessment should consider the capacity of, and acknowledge the need for, local leadership involvement in the development and implementation of watershed plans. The assessment should also consider opportunities for targeting conservation practices where they will be most effective and adapt management based on water quality monitoring, farmer engagement, and other effectiveness measures.

Research

(13) Market Driven Opportunity Assessment

IEDA and other interested stakeholders collaboratively assess market driven solutions (e.g., Environmental Services) that leverage both public and private benefits and that can create new revenue streams for conservation practices (e.g., proposed Nutrient Reduction Exchange).

Technical Assistance

(14) Increase Capacity for Conservation Planning

With conservation plans being a prerequisite for enrolling in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), ensure there are adequate resources available to efficiently help Iowa farmers develop these plans. This includes having enough certified conservation planners.

Research

(15) Soil Health Metric that Links Soil Health to Farmland Valuation

Calibrate and validate existing soil health measurement tools (chemical, physical, and biological indicators) to create a widely accepted soil health metric that is complementary with Corn Suitability Rating 2 (CSR2).

Funding

(15) Create Financial Incentives for Private Sector Conservation Planning

Partner with NRCS to create a Conservation Activity Plan (CAP) payment to incentivize private sector engagement in conservation planning.

Economics

(17) Nutrient Reduction Exchange and Water Quality Trading

Create value for farmers and landowners as well as point source permitees through a voluntary nutrient reduction and water quality exchange.

Economics

(18) Certified Land Stewardship Program

Develop a certification program whereby farmer operators who employ conservation practices may obtain a certification that provides a competitive advantage for their farmland rental agreements.

Economics

(23) Cover Crop ROI Calculator

Create a common cover crop ROI calculator. Publish complete information and simplified messaging that informs farmers and landowners of existing ROI information and how to calculate it for their farm. Engage with the ag retail sector to create a set of business case scenarios that show the benefits when they add cover crops to their portfolio and update the scenarios frequently.

Economics

(24) Cover Crop Incentives for Landowners

Create economic incentives targeted to landowners. Build and target economic incentive programs for landowners and land management companies for using cover crops practices.

Economics

(27) Ag Retailer Cover Crop Business

Generate income streams and customers for ag retailers/ag businesses.

Research

(29) Agronomic and Economic Research on Cover Crops

Fund, conduct, publish, and promote more Iowa cover crop-inclusive cropping system research focused on the intersection of agronomics and economics. Facilitate development of cover crop focused research projects throughout 2018, 2019, and beyond.

Research

(30) Align Precision Ag Platforms and Digital Farm Record Keeping Systems Cover Crop Impacts on Water and Temperature

Align precision ag platform tools with cover crop-inclusive cropping system recommendations. Leverage the growing popularity of ag platform programs to scope and conduct a pilot project that will identify the best way to incorporate cover crops' effects on water and temperature into two existing tools and models and evaluate changes in recommendations. Use the pilot project results to determine the best approach to incorporating cover crop effects into additional tools in 2019.

Technical Assistance

(31) Saturated Buffer Criteria

Evaluate the practical application of revised NRCS saturated buffer criteria.

Technical Assistance

(32) Integrate Conservation Drainage into Conservation Planning

Develop a decision support tool (e.g., checklist or decision tree) for use by conservation planners, watershed coordinators, and other public and private sector interests to identify conservation drainage practice opportunities. Evaluate establishing CAP payments for conservation planning, bioreactors, and saturated buffers to facilitate private sector engagement in conservation drainage practice planning.

Research

(33) Conservation Drainage Education and Training Needs Assessment

Conduct a needs assessment that identifies audiences and evaluates their needs for education and training on conservation drainage practices so that coordinated and comprehensive education and training programs can be developed.

Technical Assistance

(34) Conservation Client Gateway Integration

Integrate the (NRCS) Conservation Client Gateway tool with state-level tools so that program requirements and expectations are quickly accessible and clarified for farmers and landowners.

Technical Assistance

(35) Private Sector Outsourcing for Technical Assistance

Collaborate with NRCS to develop a pilot project that enables private sector TSPs to fulfill the existing technical assistance needs on projects that could be designed and constructed in "bulk" allowing TSPs to participate to provide economies of scale.

Technical Assistance

(36) Conservation Drainage Education and Training

Develop a coordinated and comprehensive program of education and training on conservation drainage practices that is tailored to specific audience needs and engages public and private sector stakeholders in the design and delivery of the programs.

Technical Assistance

(37) Conservation Prospectus

Provide incentives to TSPs to develop a conservation prospectus that outlines the linkages between each step in the plan. This would become an avenue for piloting tools and sharing case studies that show best practices and key lessons learned.

Planning

(38) Leverage Watershed Planning

Use watershed planning as a tool to identify the most efficient potential sites for conservation drainage practices in terms of performance and cost.

Technical Assistance

(39) Assessment of Engineering Needs

Map the processes that require a licensed PE to be involved. Assess potential opportunities for revised involvement to improve efficiency without jeopardizing safety and effectiveness.

Economics

(40) Income Foregone

Place emphasis on federal and state incentives to alleviate constraints on construction during the growing season by incentivizing farmers to participate in an "income foregone" program that opens field access in the summer for more cost-effective construction of EOF practices

Technical Assistance

(41) Leverage Tools

Combine, leverage, and enhance existing tools at multiple scales (sub-field to watershed) to better and more easily identify cost effective sites for conservation drainage practices.

Technical Assistance

(42) Conservation Concierge

Develop a cloud-based service to connect farmers and landowners with conservation practice service providers to achieve their farm and field conservation goals. The service would provide the following: a. qualifications for eligibility for private, local, state, and federal technical and financial assistance and programs b. recommendations for most appropriate conservation practices by farm and field c. list of potential, qualified TSPs to help with planning, siting, and implementation of these conservation practices Conduct a pilot project with IDALS and NRCS.

Economics

(43) Restructure Cost Share Programs

Restructure programs according to the benefits of the practices and ecosystem services. Potential restructuring could include: a. Cost per pound (N and P) reduced. b. Weighted to public/private benefit. If benefit is largely public, the cost should be largely covered by public sector. If benefit is largely private, the cost should be largely covered by private sector (farmer).

Technical Assistance

(44) Fully Leverage LiDAR and GIS

Create a state-based data layer looking at flow ways, hydro-conditioning, and digital elevation modeling to make it cheaper, better, and faster to develop watershed plans and site and design conservation drainage practices in collaboration with on-the-ground experts and watershed coordinators.

Technical Assistance

(45) Smart Drainage

Link technology providers to conservation data and management tools. Enable IEDA to support system integrators to conduct a pilot in a county that has flooding issues.

Research

(46) Appropriate Level of Technical Assistance

Evaluate technical assistance and administrative needs relative to financial assistance to support implementation and administration of conservation drainage practices to make recommendations on concomitant increases in technical assistance with increases in financial assistance for practices.

Research

(47) Evaluate Financing Mechanisms

Evaluate the potential for different, new, or innovative financing mechanisms to incentivize structural practices that have greater up-front costs and evaluate potential roles that drainage districts could play.
100
engaged partner organizations in the Conservation Infrastructure Initiative
110,000
acres treated across Iowa by bioreactors, saturated buffers, and CREP wetlands in 2017
973,100
acres of cover crops planted across Iowa in 2017