SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Each spring, temperatures rise and the snowpack melts, replenishing the moisture in our soils and water in our local streams. Many of these bodies of water flow into the Mississippi River, and eventually that water makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico. This is a seasonal reminder that the things we do in the upper Mississippi River basin have an impact on our neighbors downstream.
That’s why the 12 states bordering the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, five federal agencies, and the National Tribal Water Council formed the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force (HTF). While each state and federal agency is unique, we share the goal of reducing nutrient-loading throughout the Mississippi River basin to minimize the size of the hypoxic zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
The HTF and its working groups meet frequently to share successes and challenges, research and methods that help drive the adoption of soil health and water quality practices across the Mississippi River basin. This level of collaboration empowers each state to implement proven nutrient-reduction practices that are tailored to our unique landscapes and policies that meet the needs within our borders.
For example, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa collaborated with the United States Department of Agriculture to launch cover crop insurance discount programs in our respective states. These innovative programs incentivize farmers and landowners to plant cover crops to improve soil and water quality and prevent erosion between the harvest and planting seasons when fields are fallow. The streamlined programs vary by state but they’re helping advance the goals outlined in our respective state nutrient reduction strategies.
Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) oversees the Partners of Conservation Program investing over $4.2 million in cost share dollars statewide. This provides funding for the sustainable agriculture grants program, conservation practices cost-share program, streambank stabilization and restoration program, and the soil and water conservation district grants program. Illinois conservation programs under the IDOA have united to increase energies
to encourage cover crops and other conservation practices through monetary and technical support. Findings from these efforts demonstrate that when producers incorporate cover crops and other conservation practices into a crop rotation, there are valuable advantages for the farming operation as well as benefits to waterways.
Partnership is key for Indiana. The Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) is just one member of a larger Indiana Conservation Partnership, which features public, private and non-profit organizations that promote and increase soil conservation in Indiana. Housed on the ISDA website is a variety of interactive maps for Hoosiers to utilize, filled with information from across the state which is broken down by basin or by county. These interactive applications showcase Indiana’s efforts to enhance water quality and enable users to learn more about conservation programming in each basin.
In Iowa, 2020 was a record year for participation in the state’s conservation cost-share initiatives, including the cover crop insurance discount program and other incentives for first-time cover crop users. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship is engaging new federal and private partners to increase the amount of funding and technical resources available to continue scaling-up rural and urban conservation projects.
These are just a few examples of the water quality initiatives underway in each of the HTF members’ states and territories. We know there’s still work to do but we’re committed to showing continuous improvement towards the goals outlined in the HTF’s Action Plan. By working together, we’re making an impact far beyond our own states’ borders. We invite you to join us by getting involved in a conservation project in your community.
— Jerry Costello II, Illinois Department of Agriculture Director
— Jordan Seger, Indiana State Department of Agriculture Deputy Director and Soil Conservation Director
— Mike Naig, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and co-chair of the Hypoxia Task Force
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