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Farmers face risk when adopting new water quality practices

Water quality is a contentious issue across the country. For example, in Iowa, continued high nitrogen, phosphorous, bacteria and sediment levels in surface waters threaten public health and outdoor recreation.

In 2012, the state released a strategy to reduce nutrient and sediment loading in surface waters. However, the best plan forward remains uncertain. This lack of clarity leaves farmers feeling frustrated.

Farmers face risks, both real and perceived, to their production systems when adopting a new practice, and often need technical and financial support to counter these risks.

We recently released "Catching Waves: Farmers Gauge Risk to Advance Water Quality In Iowa," which examines perceived production and social risks to adopting water quality improvement practices in the state.

Results show a majority of farmers do not feel social pressure to install additional conservation practices to improve water quality. Beyond potential regulation, respondents identified soil health, nutrient retention, and cost savings as top reasons for new practice adoption.

Farmers say weather and shifting climatic patterns are the largest perceived threats to their operations. They also identified agricultural consolidation, fluctuating commodity prices, and nutrient and soil loss as top concerns.

As Iowa and other states continue to expand their watershed approach to water quality, understanding the needs, risks, and barriers farmers face will be critical.

These findings can help guide water quality efforts by researchers, farmers, watershed organizations and government officials. The Center for Rural Affairs is dedicated to facilitating research-based solutions that elevate rural communities and people.

To view the report, visit cfra.org/publications/CatchingWaves.

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