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Seeder project to increase cover crop adoption and water quality benefits

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has entered into a cooperative agreement with Polk County, the City of Des Moines, and Des Moines Water Works to help increase and expedite the amount of cover crops planted in the Des Moines and Raccoon River watersheds.

“Our public and private partners are critical to the success of every conservation project underway in Iowa,” Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig says. “We’re pleased to continue working alongside our current partners and welcome new ones to help implement more soil health and water quality practices in priority watersheds around the state.”

"What happens upstream impacts the safety of our drinking water and the recreation in our rivers and lakes for everyone in Polk County. We know the utilization of cover crops can have a tremendous impact on reducing nutrient load from agricultural operations in our surface water and groundwater, and improve soil health,” Angela Connolly, chair of Polk County Board of Supervisors says. “Investing some of Polk County’s American Recovery Act Program funds in the Cover Crop Seeder Project to assist farmers in planting cover crops is a critical step in restoring water quality for Polk County and all of Iowa."

“Cover crops are an excellent way to help build healthier soils and a more resilient landscape, and they’re an important part of our flood risk reduction toolkit. Sometimes opportunities present themselves that require thinking outside of the box and beyond our city limits. Projects like this require a great partnership to turn an idea to reality, and we are thankful to be able to help with this project,” Jonathan Gano, City of Des Moines Public Works director says.

As part of the Central Iowa Cover Crop Seeder Project, Polk County, with support from the City of Des Moines and Des Moines Water Works, will purchase equipment used to seed cover crops into fields.

The high-clearance equipment will allow cover crop seeds to be applied to fields into standing crops. This gives the cover crops time to emerge before the cash crops are harvested, providing continuous cover for the fields.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship will use funding from the Water Quality Initiative to reimburse the County up to $350,000, based on the number of cover crop acres applied by their equipment.

Ag retailer Heartland Co-op will use the seeder to apply cover crop seed for farmers and landowners in central Iowa. The project is modeled after a similar program in the state of Kansas.

"Improving surface water quality and protecting our natural resources is critical to our mission of providing safe, affordable drinking water to 600,000 customers in urban, suburban, and rural areas of central Iowa,” Ted Corrigan, Des Moines Water Works chief executive officer says. “We are happy to support this innovative project and work with these valued partners toward a shared goal.”

"Heartland Co-op’s conservation agronomists help farmers manage the numerous challenges which accompany the adoption of cover crops. The addition of this seeding equipment will allow our conservation team to increase cover crop adoption and provide farmers with a streamlined process of seeding and managing their cover crops,” Thomas Fawcett, Heartland Co-op director of environmental resources says. “Heartland Co-op is excited to be a part of this partnership and we look forward to working towards our common goals of improved water quality and soil health."

Cover crops help improve soil health, prevent soil erosion and lock in nutrients to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous loads, which provides water quality benefits to local streams, lakes and rivers and communities downstream. Increasing the number of cover crop acres planted in priority watersheds is an important part of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

The goal of this project is to seed up to 40,000 acres of cover crops over the next four years in the Des Moines and Raccoon River watersheds. Iowa farmers and landowners have planted more than 2 million acres of cover crops in recent years.

To learn more about the state’s ongoing soil health and water quality efforts, visit

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