By Ivy Schuster, Democratic Candidate for Iowa State Senate District 38
From the time that I have spent talking to local farmers, a constant theme emerges: farmers want to be the best stewards of the land but they can't do it alone. That applies to the present circumstances and more broadly. The derecho that swept across the state damaged or destroyed up to 43 percent of the state's corn and soybean crop. The hard work that so many Iowa farmers have put into their fields have been destroyed, and we need to ensure that farmers are included in the state and federal recovery aid. That's what we need to do now, but the derecho is also amplifying issues that have been present for years. It's time that the state legislature provided the necessary means to distribute funding and information that farmers need to implement more sustainable practices in Iowa agriculture.
The first step for making this happen should have been implemented 10 years ago when it was approved by Iowa voters. Of a sales tax increase of one cent, was proposed to fund conservation practices. It was later decided that the remaining would go toward mental health care--both crucial measures that would increase the quality of life for Iowans. In this legislative session, it came close to passing, but due to the pandemic, the momentum behind the bill was lost. This should be a top priority in 2021.
For years the Iowa State Extension offices have provided farmers with space to ask questions and apply for resources. These offices serve as a reliable community partner in many counties. In the past year, rearrangements in resources at the extension offices have transitioned to counties being part of a more regional model. If it is our state's priority to cut nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from fields, we need this community resource not only to remain in communities but to hire staff who can go farm to farm to provide detailed plans on how farmers can access resources for implementing additional sustainable practices on their land.
Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy was developed as a framework to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus that is entering our waterways and has recommendations for doing so in a "scientific, reasonable and cost-effective manner," as stated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Even though this strategy was developed in 2008, only 34 percent of farmers surveyed considered themselves knowledgeable or very knowledgeable about the NRS. We need the expertise from the Iowa State extension offices and their partners and collaborators, to get in the fields to identify what practices and implementations would most benefit the farmer, their land, and the environment, tailored specifically to their property. To fully implement the NRS, we need to work with those involved in agriculture to put into practice the recommended changes.
Farmers want to protect our land and water resources. By providing the funding and information necessary, the Iowa legislature can aid local farmers in making a measurable impact on the water quality in our communities.