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engaged partner organizations in the Conservation Infrastructure Initiative
acres treated across Iowa by bioreactors, saturated buffers, and CREP wetlands in 2019
More than 1,000,000
acres of cover crops planted across Iowa in 2019

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Strategy Analysis

Increased Coordination Between Private and Public Sectors

The Strategy Working Group recognized and reviewed the significant body of work that has already been performed by the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy leaders and related efforts to analyze challenges and opportunities related to conservation infrastructure. They developed recommendations that align with the vision, definition of success, and other activities and outcomes.

Stakeholder Engagement 

Stakeholder engagement revealed the critical importance of increased coordination between private and public sectors to provide financial and technical assistance for conservation practices to become the norm throughout the state.

The strategy group did not explicitly address improving nutrient stewardship since the positive economic impacts of improving fertilizer use efficiency are already proven and well known and there are other active programs in that space , including 4Rs of Nutrient Stewardship, 4R Plus, and the Iowa Nutrient and Research Council.

Identified Issues and Key Opportunities

To increase investments in conservation practices that lead to healthy soil and improved water quality for the benefit of all Iowans and downstream communities, the Strategy Recommendations address the following four issues:  

Socio-economic value propositions

Current social and economic value for cover crops and conservation drainage practices are difficult for farmers and landowners to understand how they create value. The short and long-term outcomes and benefits need to be clarified to increase trust and confidence in these investments.

Value of Soil Health

Increased dialogue regarding soil health creates the opportunity and need for translating the value of soil health to the farmer and landowner. There are opportunities for both landowners and tenants to manage for and create value from improving soil health.

Clear Value Proposition for Farmers and Landowners

There is a need for tools to help build awareness of the productivity capacity that is lost through soil loss with improved user interfaces/output interfaces to better communicate soil loss calculations.

Commodity Price Influence

Commodity prices and input costs have a significant impact on farmer and landowner decisions regarding conservation practices.

Perceived Poor Return on Investment

Taking land out of production and investing in conservation drainage adds cost to the farmer and landowner and does not provide a clear return on investment for environmental services provided downstream. The long- term benefits of cover crops are not always apparent in the short term and from year- to-year.

Cost Share Complexity

Public-sector programs, paperwork, ranking processes, permitting and timelines are complex and challenging for farmers or landowners.

Ag Retailer

There are opportunities and challenges for ag retailers to provide services (e.g., best practices, field services, access to equipment, recommendations) to farmers, land owners and financial institutions specific to conservation.

Economic development opportunities

There are many untapped resources in both urban and rural areas. Economic development opportunities exist for all stakeholders who can bring innovative solutions to the table to scale-up conservation infrastructure-related services and equipment. Economic development opportunities need to better account for and clearly describe the value and opportunities for individual stakeholders.


Economic development studies are needed to further define the opportunities available to the Iowa economy in the following areas:

  1. Jobs – Estimates of jobs created under various practice adoption scenarios (short term and long term).
  2. Community Improvement – Economic development benefits to rural and urban communities.
  3. Access to capital – Access to funding for projects and related businesses.
  4. Finance – Leveraging capital investments through innovative finance mechanisms to increase available capital for conservation.
  5. Multi-level impact – Analysis of the impact of decisions being made at a field, farm, sub-watershed, watershed, community, and state levels.

Business Planning

There are business opportunities for entrepreneurs, agriculture experts, and ag retailers in developing conservation service and support businesses. Iowa has an opportunity to also leverage the network of community colleges that budding entrepreneurs have access to in local communities throughout the state.

Economic Incentives and Value Add

There is an opportunity to leverage economic incentives and value-added opportunities by including the livestock and bioenergy sectors in conservation practices and discussions (e.g., swine manure positive impact on soil health, grazing ruminants on cover crops, using cover crops as a bioenergy feedstock).

Use of existing decision-support tools

Farmers are often unfamiliar with existing tools and unsure which tools they should use and how to use them to make decisions. They trust their local Certified Crop Advisors (CCAs), but both farmers and their advisors are grasping for a solid framework or practical way to find value in and measure, monitor, manage soil loss and water quality. Trusted local advisers need to be trained to use existing tools and best management practices.

Farmer-to-Farmer Information Sharing

Farmer-to-farmer information sharing continues to be the most effective and efficient driver for adoption and diffusion of innovations such as conservation practices.

Precision Ag Tools

The increased adoption and prevalence of precision ag tools (e.g., ClimatePro, Encirca, R7, Echelon, AgriEdge Excelsior, etc.) creates the opportunity and need for linking the value of soil health and conservation practices with long-term productivity and profitability.

The watershed approach

The watershed approach is a proven strategy for engaging farmer leaders and community members in planning, driving adoption of conservation practices, and targeting those practices to where they can be most effective while meeting the needs of local stakeholders.

Farmer-to-Farmer Information Sharing

Farmer-to-farmer information sharing within watersheds is highly effective at driving adoption of conservation practices.

Urban-Rural and Public-Private Partnerships

Diverse partnerships and healthy stakeholder engagement continue to provide opportunities for collaboration at a watershed level.

Threat of Increased Regulation

The threat of increased regulation may motivate some producers while discouraging others to adopt conservation practices.

Supply Chain Engagement and Social Pressures

Downstream consumer packaged goods companies and retailers continue to pressure their supply chain and ultimately farmers to reduce their environmental footprint. Additional social pressures around water quality and flood mitigation will continue to escalate expectations between the urban and rural stakeholders and among segments of food and agriculture supply and value chains.



Current Projects

Renewable Energy-Water Quality Nexus

(7) Renewable Energy - Water Quality Nexus
See the Full Project
The Watershed Approach - Amplifying Efforts

(12) Watershed Planning Capacity Assessment (19) Scale Up Watershed Planning (38) Leverage Watershed Planning
See the Full Project
Watershed Planning and Implementation

Watershed planning is a key means of bringing local stakeholders together to identify resource concerns, set goals and establish a path forward to achieve those goals. Numerous watershed plans have been developed in Iowa, but the need for additional watershed planning vastly exceeds what has been accomplished to date.

(14) Increase Capacity for Conservation Planning (19) Scale Up Watershed Planning (38) Leverage Watershed Planning (41) Leverage Tools (44) Fully Leverage LiDAR and GIS
See the Full Project

Strategy Recommendations

The 19 strategy recommendations focus on ways to establish Iowa as the leader in conservation through integrating CI into production agriculture and breaking down the barriers to implementing and scaling up conservation practices.


(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.


(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.


(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.


(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.


(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.


(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.


(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.


(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.


(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).


(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.


(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.


(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.
engaged partner organizations in the Conservation Infrastructure Initiative
acres treated across Iowa by bioreactors, saturated buffers, and CREP wetlands in 2019
More than 1,000,000
acres of cover crops planted across Iowa in 2019