Jackson County Farmer

Jackson County farmer Paul Gerlach is one of hundreds of local landowners who has worked with the NRCS on conservation projects. Here, Gerlach shows some radish that he plants as a cover crop in the fall. (photo by Brooke Taylor)

More than $1.2 million in federal money went to local landowners this year to improve the environmental quality of their ground.

That amount, which was for the 2018 fiscal year ending June 30, put the Jackson County Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office at number one in its 18-county district and number three in the state for money distributed under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

EQIP is one of several programs available to landowners. Local farmers undertook projects from planting cover crops and contouring fields to managing brush and timber and implementing rotational grazing practice plans — all measures aimed at curbing soil erosion and improving water quality. “We are here to assist landowners and producers and get even more people through our doors,” said Lori Schnoor Jackson County’s NRCS conservationist.

Throughout the year, the staff holds field days and does onsite consultations with landowners to see what practices make sense.

“The staff works hard and tries to get the word out to as many different groups as possible” through outreach programs, including small farmers, larger farmers and other landowners, Schnoor said.

“Corn and beans are our mainstay,” she noted, but many conservation programs are available for landowners.

“Everything we offer can be for any landowner, as small as one acre,” Schnoor said.

The first step is for landowners to visit the local Farm Services Agency, 601 E. Platt St., to register their farm. The NRCS office also is located there.

Paul Gerlach, who farms just off Caves Road outside of Maquoketa, has worked with NRCS for about 15 years.

“Every farmer has a different situation. They try to work with you to find the best way to meet your needs,” he said.

Gerlach, who has stock cows and row crops, plants cover crops to provide nutrients to his livestock and build soil health. He also implemented a rotational grazing program about eight years ago with help from a NRCS specialist.

He most recently worked with the agency when he installed a solar pump at his farm.

He dug out a pond that was silted in and fenced it off to keep cattle out of it. The solar pump sends water from the pond uphill to tanks for the cattle to drink.

NRCS technicians will make a site visit and help landowners determine their needs and what programs might fit, Schnoor said.

That might be grade stabilization techniques, such as ponds, grass terraces or basins, cover crops, pollinator habitat, organic agriculture, and on-farm energy improvement, among other things.

“This area is diverse,” Schnoor said. “We have a lot of different land uses.”  

‘Skin in the game’

The Jackson County NRCS serviced 52 EQIP contracts last year, averaging about $23,533 per contract. Several counties, including Floyd, Delaware, Howard, Mitchell, and Winneshiek, did more than $900,000 each in total dollars, with anywhere from 15 to 38 contracts covered.

“If you look at those stats, Lori and her staff do a great job providing Jackson County farmers with opportunities to solve resource issues on their farms,” said Shawn Dettmann, assistant state conservationist for the NRCS, which is under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“They do a great job of outreach,” said Dettmann, who oversees the northeast region of the state that includes Jackson County.

Statewide, it was also a record-setting year, with the EQIP program committing $30 million through 1,414 contracts, treating 154,191 acres. About one-third of that funding went to grassland-based practices such as watering facilities, fence, and pipeline to support livestock grazing systems. That represents a 36-percent increase over the prior five-year EQIP average.

Overall, the state awarded $63 million in contracts on more than 450,000 acres through EQIP, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

Many of the programs are done through cost share, in which landowners and agricultural producers can access financial and technical assistance to put structural and management conservation practices in place.

The landowner pays a certain amount for the project, and the NRCS program pays a certain amount.

“The farmer has to have skin in the game as well,” Dettmann said.

Part of capturing that money for the county is showing a need. The more farmers take advantage of the resources, the more resources will be available, Dettmann said.

“We can’t get more financial assistance unless we show the need,” he said.

“We’re always trying to come up with new ideas every year to see how we can get more money to people. We want to get our fair share for Iowa producers,” Dettmann said.

Combating soil erosion, and thereby improving water quality, is the NRCS’s number one focus.

“A lot of practices fall into those categories but might not be obvious,” he said.

Much of the work done under EQIP and other programs is completed by local contractors.

 “It provides significant economic impact,” Dettmann said. “That’s money coming into the county that wouldn’t normally come in.”

THE NRCS offers financial and technical assistance through the following programs:

Construct or improve water management or irrigation structures (Agricultural Management Assistance – AMA)  

Improve resource conditions such as soil quality, water quality, water quantity, air quality, habitat quality, and energy (Conservation Stewardship Program – CSP)

Implement conservation practices, or activities, such as conservation planning, that address natural resource concerns on their land (Environmental Quality Incentives Program – EQIP)

“We’re always trying to come up with new ideas every year to see how we can get more money to people. We want to get our fair share for Iowa producers.”

Maquoketa farmer Paul Gerlach is one of hundreds of local landowners who has worked with the NRCS on conservation projects. Here, Gerlach shows some radish that he plants as a cover crop in the fall.

The local office of the Natural Resource Conservation Service assisted local landowners with more than $1.2 million in environmental quality improvement programs in its fiscal year. Shown are team members, from left, Russ Wolf, Jennifer Turner, Lori Schnoor, Amy DeMoss, Jane Butt, Hannah Davison-Roeder and Barb Schuster.

For more information

Natural Resource Conservation Service

601 E Platt St, Maquoketa

(563) 652-2337