Authors of a new report from an eastern Iowa think tank say the voluntary approach to reducing farm chemical run-off isn’t working. David Osterberg is with the Iowa Policy Project, a “progressive” non-profit research group based in Iowa City.
“When we look at the status of water quality in the Mississippi River and also within the state, we just can’t find much improvement there,” Osterberg says.
Osterberg says billions of state and federal money has financed conservation measures in farm fields, but the so-called “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico “is as big as it’s ever been.”
“All the data we find does not show that we’re making real progress,” Osterberg says.
Sara Conrad, the co-author of the Iowa Policy Project report, says there are “a lot of great farmers in Iowa,” but there’s no a lot of improvement in water quality.
“We have to understand that maybe just instituting simple voluntary measures may not be our final solution,” Conrad says.
The report concludes Iowa farmers are spending less than one-dollar per acre on conservation measures. Osterberg, the co-founder of the Iowa Policy Project, is also a former state legislator. He suggests current legislators should raise taxes on farm chemicals to get more money for on-the-farm projects to reduce run-off.
Supporters of the voluntary approach to farm chemical management say more Iowa farmers are embracing the state’s “Nutrient Reduction Strategy” and government regulations on farm chemical applications wouldn’t fully take into account the characteristics of each acre of Iowa farmland.