DES MOINES, IOWA, Jan. 30, 2019—Iowa farmers contracted a record $9.2 million in 2018 for conservation practices that help reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and better forage conditions on grass-based grazing operations.
More than 650 Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contracts were obligated to Iowa farmers in Fiscal Year 2018, exceeding the three previous years combined. A sampling of the most popular adopted practices includes watering facilities, livestock pipeline, ponds, fence, brush management and stream crossings.
Jon Hubbert, assistant state conservationist for programs with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Iowa, says more than half of last year’s EQIP grazing conservation contracts were signed by producers in emergency drought counties in southeast Iowa. “We offered increased payment rates for eligible grazing practices in the drought area,” said Hubbert. “Interest for these practices during the drought far exceeded our expectations, which was great to see. These practices will provide natural resource protection and improve their operations for a long time.”
Many of the adopted practices allow livestock easier access to drinking water and exclude cattle from directly polluting streams and ponds. Hubbert says practices like prescribed grazing, fence, and brush management also help producers make the best use of their land and forage.
Hubbert says local NRCS offices accept EQIP applications on a continuous basis but will periodically set signup deadlines as funding allows. The next EQIP application deadline is March 15 for Iowa farmers.
Jeff Matthias, state grassland specialist for NRCS in Iowa, strongly encourages farmers to work with their local NRCS office to develop a grazing management plan – a working document of planned improvements to the grazing resource base. “Grazing management plans help farmers manage the soil, water, air, plant, and animal resources, along with helping to design a system that will provide the proper nutrition for grazing animals so they have high performance at the lowest cost,” he said.
Just like cropland, Matthias says grazing operators can benefit from managing pastures with soil health in mind. “As soil health improves, forage production increases and fertility needs decrease, reducing input costs and increasing profits,” he said.
NRCS offers a lengthy list of practices that treat resource concerns and improve pasture soil health, which are eligible for financial assistance through EQIP. Pasture management conservation practices like prescribed grazing, forage and biomass planting, and access control offer producers a higher payment rate in Iowa compared to many other practices.