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The Scarlet & Black

Opinion: Farmers can’t do it alone

The Aug. 10 derecho devastated many Iowa farmer’s crops.

By Ivy Schuster

From the time that I have spent talking to local farmers, a constant theme has emerged: 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 has 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 both the funding and the 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, three-eighths was proposed to fund conservation practices. It was later decided that the remaining five-eighths would go toward mental health care—both crucial measures that would increase quality of life for Iowans. This bill came close to passing in this legislative session, but due to the pandemic, the momentum behind it was lost. This should be a top priority in 2021.

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. 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, however, 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 to not only 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. To fully implement the NRS, for example, we need to work with those involved in agriculture to put into practice the recommended changes. We need the expertise from the Iowa State Extension offices, 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.

Farmers want to protect our land and water resources. By providing the funding and information necessary, the Iowa legislature can aid local farmers not only in making a measurable impact on the water quality in our communities, but also in implementing more long-lasting, sustainable practices for the future.

Ivy Schuster is the Democratic candidate for State Senate District 38.

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