Iowa elected officials support mandatory stream buffers


Photo by Adam Sondel, Pexels

Tyler Chalfant | September 17th, 2019

The Conservation Districts of Iowa passed a resolution earlier this month calling for mandatory buffers to protect the state’s water by prohibiting crops from being planted within 30 feet of a stream. These buffers protect waterways from erosion and nutrient pollution, and also promote biodiversity by preserving habitats. 

The Conservation Districts of Iowa, or CDI, is made up of 500 soil and water conservation district commissioners, elected from each of the soil and water conservation districts in the state. The group’s purpose is to promote conservation practices and policy, and they now plan to lobby the Iowa Legislature on this issue, hoping to pass a law to make buffers mandatory. Minnesota passed a law requiring buffers of 50 feet, and now has a 96% compliance rate.

A similar resolution failed to pass the CDI last year. Laura Krouse, one of the commissioners who proposed the resolution, credits the change in opinion to the heavy precipitation and flooding that the state has experienced over the past year, which hurt farmers across the state. Many farmers already plant perennials around streams, but others don’t, and farmland regulations are expected to meet resistance. 

Opposition Secretary Mike Naig of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources said that he opposes making buffers mandatory, preferring voluntary, incentive-driven programs. Krouse responded that Iowa has, “relied on the voluntary approach for 70 years. It’s not working in some areas.” 

2015 Cover Crop Conference coming to West Des Monies


This farmer in South Dakota utilizes a cover crop combination of crimson clover, oats, common vetch, radish, and New York style turnip. (USDA NRCS South Dakota/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | January 27, 2015

The 2015 Iowa Cover Crops Conference will be held in West Des Moines on February 17 and 18.

The annual event is hosted by the Soil and Water Conservation Society, Conservation Districts of Iowa , and the Midwest Cover Crops Council. This year’s event will include a presentation from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey as well as farmers and other agribusiness professionals.

Cover crop usage in Iowa has gained momentum in recent years with just 10,000 acres planted in 2009 and more than 300,000 acres by 2013. Cover crops are one of the techniques outlined in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy as a way of minimizing fertilizer runoff which pollutes waterways. Approximately 70 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus in the Gulf of Mexico dead zone came from the Mississippi River.

A report by the international consulting firm Datu Research last year found that 23 percent of Iowa farmers reported utilizing cover crops. The report found that Iowa farmers are also practicing no-till and minimum tillage techniques as well as crop rotation, all of which can reduce runoff and improve soil health.

An ongoing study by researchers at the University of Illinois suggests that the use of cover crops does not increase yields but it does “increase the amount of sequestered soil organic carbon.” However, research by scientists at Purdue University has found that cover crops can improve corn stover yields which can be used as a biofuel.

The cost of next month’s event is $99 for those who register before February 16 and $125 for those who register onsite.