Iowa Healthy Soils Policy

NOT PASSED:  Soil resource health and recovery monitoring system

The bill was held in committee but remains eligible to move forward in the 2020 legislative session pending the advancement of a champion in the Environmental Protection Committee, who would need to move it out of committee and to a vote.

Dates:

Introduced January 24, 2019

Legislation:

House File 102

Sponsor/s: 

Representative Charles Isenhart 

Description:

The Bill was conceived in the fall of 2018 as a new approach to managing soil health across the state as a means to support Iowa farmers. 

The Bill would have directed the Division of Soil Conservation & Water Quality (within the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship) and the Iowa Nutrient Research Center (within Iowa State University) to create a statewide soil resource, health, and recovery monitoring system. There is no funding associated with this Bill. 

The Division and Research Center would work together to create objectives, goals, and benchmarks on the State’s soil health.  

The program requires submission of a report on the status of state soils, recommendations and proposed legislation to the legislature every two years. Work has yet to be specified due to the bill’s pending passage.

Soil Health Definition:

As defined by the Iowa NRCS, “…  the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans”  

Stated Goals:

  • To  measure, analyze, and track soil health regarding the continued capacity of Iowa’s soils to permanently sustain plant and animal life

Program Required Measurements:

  1. Nutrient retention capacity and fertility of a soil 
  2. Structure, stability, and compaction of a soil
  3. Soil depth and degrees of soil erosion
  4. Capacity of a soil to retain precipitation and its capacity to filter the transport of nutrients
  5.  A soil’s habitat for earthworms and soil microbes
  6. The value of a soil to produce crops, and levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, and calcium present in a soil

Tools & Guidance: 

Funding Source/s: 

  • No mention of the funding source in the original bill 

Funding Type: 

  • N/A

Practices Eligible for Funding: 

  • N/A

Agencies Involved:

Rulemaking Process:

  • Would be co-run by the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Nutrient Research Center 

State Universities & Researchers: 

Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:

Education & Advocacy Groups

Lessons Learned:

  • A strong champion/s of the bill is essential. While many organizations supported HF 102, it stalled without strong leadership. 
  • Messaging within the context of the political landscape is critical to building allyship and support.  Well done, it can build bipartisan support from the beginning and put farmers at the forefront of the conversation. 
  • Building relationships is the first step towards building a coalition that can play a leadership role in supporting the bill.

Media:

Maps:

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Cost Share for Water Quality Practices

Dates:

Began in 2013 

Legislation:

N/A 

Sponsor/s: 

N/A

Description:

The Cost-Share Program was created as a part of the Iowa Water Quality Initiative (WQI) that was launched in 2013, as policymakers realized that healthy soil management is a means to reduce nutrient loss, runoff and improve overall water quality in the state. The Cost-Share program provides assistance to farmers who participate in no-till, strip till, nitrogen inhibitor, or cover crop practices. 

The program is run by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD). It is funded through the General Fund. 

Soil Health Definition:

As defined by the Iowa NRCS, “…  the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans”  

Stated Goals:

  • To help improve soil health, reduce erosion and improve water quality
  • To protect Iowa’s natural resources for future generations

Program Required Measurements:

  • Farmers are not required to measure any aspect of their cover crop to receive funds 
  • The state will measure land-use changes, point source implementation, nutrient loads in nearby watersheds, and sediment delivery in nearby watersheds
  • Farmers apply for funding through their local Soil and Water Conservation District office and are only eligible for cost-share on up to 160 acres

Tools & Guidance: 

  • Local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) provide resources and suggestions on cover crop establishment and management for successful cover crop usage (ex. Brochures, handouts, etc.) Farmers must go to their local SWCD office in person.
  • Iowa Soil Health Resources through the NRCS 

Funding source/s: 

  • Mainly funded through state appropriations from the General Fund to the Water Quality Initiative (WQI)  
  • Currently seeking funding through the EPA-Gulf of Mexico Program that aims to reduce nutrient runoff upstream watersheds

Funding type/s: 

  • A Cost-share program, in which the state allocates various available funding streams to the Iowa Department of Agriculture for the Water Quality Initiative (WQI). 

Practices Eligible for Funding: 

  • Cover crops ($25 per acre for first-time users and $15 per acre for past cover crop users) 
  • No-till or strip-till ($10 per acre) 
  • Nitrapyrin nitrification inhibitor ($3 per acre)

Agencies Involved:

Rulemaking Process:

State Universities & Researchers: 

Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:

Education & Advocacy Groups

Lessons Learned: 

  • The demand for the cost-share far exceeds the available funding; other funding streams should be identified.
  • Legislative report

Media:

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Crop Insurance Demonstration Project

Dates:

November 2017

Legislation:

N/A

Sponsor/s: 

 Bill Northey, former Iowa Commissioner of Agriculture

Description:

The Crop Insurance Demonstration Project is a 3-year demonstration project wherein the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) provides a $5 per acre discount on federal crop insurance for farmers who plant cover crops. The demonstration project was created in coordination with, and distributed through, the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA). The project is funded through state appropriations to the Water Quality Initiative that are then distributed through the RMA.

Farmers are ineligible for the discount if they fully till or terminate the cover crop in the fall and if they are receiving financial incentives to plant cover crops through other mechanisms. However, they can apply the discount on acres not covered by cost-share programs.  

Soil Health Definition:

N/A

Stated Goals:

  • Expand the use of cover crops to reduce risk and improve soil health

Program Required Measurements:

  • Applicants must maintain documentation that cover crops have been seeded (seed bills, seeding method, timing, etc.) 
  • Farmers are not required to take measurements to receive funds 

Tools & Guidance: 

Funding Source/s: 

Funding Type/s: 

  • Discount on federal crop insurance 

Practices Eligible for Funding: 

  • Fall planted cover crops with a spring-planted cash crop 

Agencies Involved:

Rulemaking Process:

  • Run by IDALS 

State Universities & Researchers: 

Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:

Education & Advocacy Groups:

Lessons Learned:

  • The discount (or lack of one) shows up on a line of the crop insurance invoice that farmers pay, which has helped stimulate interest in cover crops from farmers who view the invoice and see there is a discount they are not getting.

Media:

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NOT PASSED: Property Tax Exemption for Cover Crops 

The bill was held in committee, but remains eligible for the 2020 legislative session. Requires a legislative champion in the Agriculture Committee to move it out of committee to be voted on by the full legislature. 

Dates:

Introduced in 2019 

Legislation:

House Study Bill 78

Sponsor/s: 

Representative Ross Paustian

Description:

House Study Bill 78 would provide a 50% property tax exemption for cropland planted with cover crops that landowners would reapply for annually. 

Soil Health Definition:

N/A 

Stated Goals:

  • Defray costs of implementing cover crops to promote the practice statewide to promote the use and adoption of cover crops 
  • To support the profitability of farmers participating in conservation practices

Program Required Measurements:

  • IDALS staff will inspect the property
  • Measurement requirements are not finalized  

Tools & Guidance: 

  • Tools are not finalized 

Funding Source/s: 

  • Expected to come from appropriation from the General Fund 

Funding Type/s: 

  • Property tax exemption 

Practices Eligible for Funding: 

  • Cover crops

Agencies Involved:

Rulemaking Process:

  • IDALS would administer the program 

State Universities & Researchers: 

Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:

Education & Advocacy Groups

Lessons Learned:

Media:

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PENDING: Update of soil conservation district law to include soil health

Date:

Introduced January 2020

Legislation: 

HF2111

Sponsor: 

Representative Charles Isenhart 

Description:

This bill would amend the “Soil Conservation Districts Law” (Code chapter 161A), which governs the powers of commissioners of soil and water conservation districts relating to the prevention of soil erosion, flooding, and sediment damage to include soil “health, soil erosion,water quality, water quantity”.

“The bill provides that the commissioners must also act to conserve or enhance soil health and water resources, and reduce the effects of flooding.”

Soil Health Definition:

N/A

Stated Goals:

  • “To conserve or enhance soil health and water resources, and reduce the effects of flooding.”

Program Required Measurements:

  • N/A

Tools: 

  • Soil and water resource conservation plans
  • Research activities
  • Demonstration projects

Funding Source:

  • N/A

Funding Type:  

Practices eligible for funding: 

  • N/A

Agencies Involved:

Rulemaking process:

  • N/A

State Universities & Researchers: 

  • Iowa State University of Science and Technology

Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:

  • Iowa Soil and Water Conservation Districts
  • Iowa Agricultural Experiment Station
  • Iowa Cooperative Extension Service in Agriculture and Home Economics
  • A public or private entity recognized by the Iowa Agricultural Extension Service

Education & Advocacy Groups:

N/A

Lessons Learned:

N/A

Media:

N/A

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PENDING: Healthy Soils and Watersheds Initiative

Date:

Introduced February 2020

Legislation: 

House File 2346

Sponsor/s: 

Description:

This bill creates a Healthy Soils and Watersheds Initiative, administered by the Division of Soil Conservation and Water Quality, created within the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

This bill would amend the Iowa Soil and Water Conservation Act to:

  • Include “the improvement of soil health and quantity of healthy soil, the improvement of watershed health” in district soil and water resource conservation plans;
  • Directs districts to assist landowners in soil health improvement, including the development of soil and watershed health assessments;
  • Directs districts to develop “methods to maintain or improve soil health and water condition watershed health”;
  • Directs the State Soil Conservation and Water Quality Committee to include at least two members with “experience using healthy soils practices”;
  • Encourage school districts to teach “basic methods of soil conservation and healthy soils practices”;
  • Expand the current canon of soil conservation practices;
  • Directs the Division of Soil Conservation and Water Quality to support “activities that enhance soil health and watershed health”, including: 
    • Erosion control by “keeping soil covered or minimizing soil disturbance and external inputs, increasing the quantity of healthy soils and maximizing the presence of living roots.”
    • “Improving water quality and reliable water availability” through management of nutrients and runoff and by improving “water infiltration rates and water holding capacities of soils”
    • “Integrating animals into land and water management, including for use by grazing animals, birds, beneficial insects, or keystone species such as earthworms.”
  • Creates a Healthy Soils and Watersheds Initiative Fund;
  • Authorizes the Division to incentivize voluntary soil health improvements and assessments through grants, loans, or on a cost-share basis;
  • Requires the Division to prepare an annual report for submission to the governor and general assembly.

Soil Health Definition:

‘’Soil health’ means the overall composition and fertility of soil, including the amount of organic matter in and water-holding capacity of the soil; and the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans, and that supports the production of diverse food, fiber, and other agricultural crops.”

Stated Goals:

  • “the improvement of soil health and quantity of healthy soil”
  • “preserving, optimizing, and improving soil health, watershed health, biodiversity, and wildlife habitat in the state.”

Program Required Measurements:

  • “including but not limited to soil organic matter, soil structure, infiltration and bulk density, water holding capacity, microbial biomass, and soil respiration.”

Tools: 

N/A

Funding Source:

This bill creates a Healthy Soils and Watersheds Initiative Fund. 

Funding Type:  

The fund would encompass federal funding, state funding allocated from the general fund, as well as any other sources (e.g. private donations).

Practices eligible for funding: 

  • Cover-cropping
  • Contour planting
  • Mulch
  • Minimum or no tillage (conservation tillage or no-till)
  • Silviculture
  • Aquaculture
  • Permaculture
  • Planned grazing
  • Integrated crop-livestock systems
  • Integrated pest management
  • Nutrient best management practices
  • Practices described in the most recent field office technical guide published by USDA
  • Other cultural practices approved by the committee

Agencies Involved:

Rulemaking process:

Referred to House Agriculture Committee

State Universities & Researchers: 

N/A

Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:

N/A

Education & Advocacy Groups:

N/A

Lessons Learned:

N/A

Media:

N/A


Questions?

Contact Iowa@healthysoilspolicy.org