Millions of dollars have been invested by taxpayers for monitoring and research on Iowa water quality issues. The void is implementing the research, science on the Iowa landscape. Little progress has been made compared to potential and needed improvements in water quality.
An implementation model applied eight years ago to Hewitt Creek near Dyersville, Coldwater Creek near Greene, and Lime Creek near Independence demonstrated significant watershed resistant leadership, broad participation and water quality improvement. The common feature was farmer leaders who accepted science-based research and monitoring data, then asked their neighbors to help in developing performance-based rewards that were measurable. The incentives selected were tillage management, manure management, fertilizer timing and use, cover crops, soil and cornstalk nitrate testing. Incentives were adjusted annually by the farmer watershed council.
Major attention was given to saving soil nutrients on the field to improve long-term productivity and soil tilth. Fewer expensive silt catch basins were needed, thus reducing the cost per ton of soil or pounds of phosphorus not delivered from the watershed.
A survey revealed that all participants thought the program was a conservation approach. More than 90 percent said it made their farming operation more profitable. Macro-invertebrate and fish populations became more diverse and larger. When the project ended, the management changes continued because the changes were profitable and water quality had improved.
This cost-effective farmer leadership model merits implementation across Iowa.