The U.S.D.A. is paying farmers to idle more land along streams and rivers in an effort to ease future flooding.

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says his agency is spending about $20-million in Iowa this year to create "floodplain easements."

"It basically uses land in a way that slows streams down and provides additional buffers in the event of heavy rains," Vilsack says.

Once a farmer enrolls a tract of ground as a "floodplain easement" and gets the rental payment from the government, row crops like corn and soybeans are no longer planted on that ground. Vilsack says trees and grasses are planted and the land is "contoured" so streams have a place to spread out when they flood rather than spreading out on concrete city streets downstream.

"It’s all designed to do what Mother Nature did long, long ago, which was to have a series of wetlands and natural storage areas," Vilsack says. "That’s what this is."

Forty-two different flood plain easements are being created in Iowa this year, covering over 4240 acres. The federal money for those easements came from the economic stimulus package.

"I think farmers recognize and appreciate that they have land that can be used to a better use for society and at the same time the government pays them a reasonable rental rate or a reasonable amount for the use of their land," Vilsack says. "So they benefit financially and we benefit from better flood control."

Almost 32 million acres have been enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program — the C.R.P. — and Vilsack expects another 12 million acres will be enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program.

"What we’ve seen over the course of the last 20 to 25 years is an evolution of an understanding that conservation needs to be treated just as we treat commodities," Vilsack says. "It needs to be supportive. It needs to be innovative. There need to be additional ways for folks to use their land."

Vilsack, the former Iowa governor, visited Columbus Junction and Cedar Rapids yesterday and spoke by phone with Radio Iowa.

The Emergency Watershed Protection — Floodplain Easement Program was established in 1996. Land that’s been flooded in the past 12 months or has a history of repeated flooding is eligible.