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Farmers finish 2021 climate-smart and conservation-minded

This year, “climate-smart agriculture” joined the collection of terms cycling through the industry.

It refers to integrated management practices that reduce negative impacts on the environment, strengthen resilience to short-and-long-term stressors, and increase productivity of the farm.

The concept isn’t new and in 2021 we saw many examples of it in action.

Prairie Strips

“Plants play a unique role in addressing climate change because, through photosynthesis, they pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. In terms of the options we have to do so, harnessing plant photosynthesis is the “greenest” one,” Lisa Schulte Moore, co-founder of the ISU Prairie STRIPS team says. “In agriculture, we know how to manage crops at scale and we need more farmers to also manage for carbon removal.”

Cover crops are suited to this purpose and so are prairie strips. Schulte Moore and the STRIPS team have researched how converting 10% of a crop field to diverse, native perennial vegetation can reduce sediment movement by 95% and total phosphorous and nitrogen lost through runoff by 77% and 70%, respectively.

“Integrating prairie strips can really help support the economic environment of farming in terms of keeping soil in place, building soil health, and providing material that could be harvested for biomass,” Schulte Moore says.

Omar de Kok-Mercado, Iowa State University

Water Quality

Several conservation strategies can help reduce nitrate leaching and keep that valuable resource in fields. Saturated buffers and woodchip bioreactors have gained popularity in this past year.

A partnership program in Iowa called the Central Iowa Water Quality Infrastructure Project created a funding model that covered construction costs for these practices, which is often a barrier.

In 2021 alone, the project has designed and installed 51 saturated buffers and bioreactors in central Iowa.


Conservation Funding

This summer, a first-of-its-kind conservation easement was implemented on farmland in Coon Rapids, Iowa.

Conservation easements are permanent agreements between landowners and conservation organizations that allow a landowner to maintain ownership and control of the land while voluntarily giving up rights to actions that could damage the land.

The conservation organization that holds the easement ensures current and future owners continue to meet the conservation vision of the landowners who established the conservation easement.

Eight parcels in the conservation easement, owned by the Garst family, sold at auction in August – over 1,900 acres for over $19 million.


At the close of this year, we’re seeing big headlines about the future of funding for conservation initiatives.

Two reports released this fall detail the decrease in funding two USDA working lands programs, the Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program, have experienced over the past 13 years.

CSP funding has been cut in half since the 2008 farm bill. In 2020, only 25% of CSP applications were funded.

EQIP and CSP provide real benefits to farmers and the environment.

Ted Krauskopf, farmer near Highland, Illinois, leveraged EQIP to convert 90 acres of mostly highly erodible cropland to rotational pasture. With this strategy in place, he sees soil structure improvements and is able to graze cattle straight through summer into fall without feeding hay.

Climate-smart practices will continue to be part of the discussion in conservation, especially as focus remains on Biden’s “30 by 30” plan, a 10-year, voluntary and locally-led initiative to conserve 30% of U.S. land and coastal waters by 2030.

In addition, the USDA recently announced it will bring in new partners and expand opportunities for farmers and landowners to enroll in the Conservation Enhancement Reserve Program.

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