By DOUG SCHMITZ
DES MOINES, Iowa –The Iowa Soil Conservation & Water Quality Committee has voted against a proposed mandatory resolution that, if passed, would have banned the state’s farmers from planting crops within 30 feet of the state’s streams.
At its annual conference in August, a group of 500 locally-elected Iowa water and soil conservation district commissioners — many of whom are farmers — approved a resolution titled, “Require Permanent Buffer Strips to Protect Streams,” which had passed with a supermajority.
The group said the proposed crop buffer law would have improved water quality by creating crop buffer strips to reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff.
But Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said the resolution wouldn’t have represented every Iowa farmer — especially since the move would have taken away their freedom to choose which practices are right for their operations.
“While I agree that buffer strips are good conservation practices and I encourage all farmers to explore conservation opportunities for their operations, I do not believe that regulation is the right strategy,” he told FarmWorld.
Dennis Carney, CDI president and a Mason City, Iowa, corn and soybean farmer, told FarmWorld commissioners are chosen through the general election and their job is to represent all residents of their districts, not only farmers.
“Commissioners evaluate applications for cost-share and distribute federal, state, and local cost-share funds to landowners and operators who desire to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality on their farms,” he said.
He said the CDI’s annual resolution process encourages district commissioners to propose improvements to state or federal regulations, “most of which they work with all the time.”
“Proposed resolutions must achieve a minimum of 60 percent commissioner approval for adoption, becoming part of the CDI’s conservation goals for the next five years,” he said. “The CDI officers and staff are therefore empowered to work toward achieving these goals.”
The proposal (or Resolution 5), which came from the Linn County Soil and Water Conservation District stated the CDI should support legislation similar to Minnesota’s buffer law, which requires perennial vegetative buffers of up to 50 feet along lakes, rivers, and streams and buffers of 16.5 feet along ditches.
Officials at the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (MBWSR) said these buffers help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment.
As of July 2019, MBWSR officials said about 98 percent of parcels adjacent to Minnesota waters are compliant with the buffer Law.
“Soil and water conservation districts are reporting encouraging progress in their work with landowners around the state,” officials said.
Carney said any resolution that is adopted by the CDI is strictly “a suggestion for action.”
“The CDI has no authority to directly make changes to state or federal regulations,” he said. “It is our hope that these resolutions, including that Iowa adopt a buffer rule, launch discussions and actions related to Iowa’s conservation goals.”
Naig said the soil and water conservation district commissioners like Carney “are important boots on the ground.”
“They work closely with farmers, urban planners and the Department of Agriculture to accelerate the adoption of conservation practices in Iowa,” he said in a statement to the media.
“I believe that voluntary, incentive-based approaches to delivering conservation practices that are tailored to the landscape — instead of mandatory regulations — are the best way to achieve our state’s water quality goals.”
Moreover, with dozens of practices outlined in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, he told FarmWorld, “We cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach to conservation.”
“This state has a diverse landscape from border to border, and farmers should have the freedom to choose which practices are right for their operations.”