The two candidates running to be Iowa’s secretary of agriculture for the next four years disagree on how to advance voluntary efforts to improve water quality in the state.
Republican Mike Naig has been ag secretary since the spring of 2018 and he’s seeking a second full term in the office.

“I can confidently say there’s never been more awareness, more work, more partnerships and more resources being focused and more actual conservation work getting done than at any time in our history,” Naig says. “I’m proud of that.”

Naig says over the past 10 years, the state’s voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy has been showing farmers the value of new conservation practices.

“Historically, we’ve wanted to move water off of the landscape as fast as we can and, in fact, that’s the sole purpose of a drainage district is to remove water from the landscape , to make that land more productive,” Naig says, adding research is showing farmers the value of cover crops and buffer zones along waterways.

John Norwood, the Democratic challenger, is a Polk County Soil and Water Commissioner.

“The current Nutrient Reduction Strategy isn’t working…Doing things one at a time can’t scale to the 23 million acres,” Norwood says, “The framework ought to be not going things one at a time, but doing them systematically.”

Norwood says well over half of Iowa farmland is owned by people who aren’t actively farming it and federal incentives should encourage landowners to adopt more conservation practices. “Manage water for filtration, manage for acquifer recharge, manage water for flooding,” Norwood says. “We have to scale up soil health. That’s another aspect that we, frankly, don’t have a strategy for.”

The candidates made their comments recently on Iowa Press on Iowa PBS. The state’s voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy was announced nearly a decade ago, to reduce harmful runoff into Iowa lakes and rivers. An Iowa State University dashboard to gauge progress toward the strategy’s goals was posted online a year ago, but has not been updated this year.

Radio Iowa