USDA Offers Farmers $$ To Cut Nitrogen and Phosphorus Runoff

December 9, 2009

Successfully reducing agricultural runoff containing contaminants such as excess nitrogen and phosphorus hinges in large part on daily use of appropriate practices by farmers working the land. If there is widespread adoption of this approach, serious problems such as dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere can be reduced, wildlife habitat in affected waterway corridors can be improved, agricultural productivity can be increased, and farmers' expenses can be reduced.

A few government programs are trying to nudge along this win-win situation, but they often don't work well together. Other efforts by governments, educational institutions, and private sector organizations continue trying to inform farmers about the most effective practices, but many farmers remain unaware of them, or are reluctant to change how they do things, or have little financial incentive to change.

In an effort to address many of these problems, the US Dept. of Agriculture is expanding a program designed to get "best practices" working in the fields. As part of its Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced Nov. 23, 2009, that it has targeted 41 watersheds in 12 states within the overall Mississippi River watershed for pilot projects over the next four years. Farmers selected to participate in the $320 million program will be given financial incentives, and dozens of appropriate practices to choose from, to help reduce runoff of nitrogen and phosphorous.

Up to five requests for proposals (RFPs), funded by various USDA programs, are expected to be announced in the next few weeks, after they are approved by the Office of Management and Budget. Farmers and their lands will be selected in the first part of 2010, and all contracts are expected to be signed no later than late summer 2010. USDA officials don't yet have an estimate of how many farmers, or what acreage, will be covered.

Actual work in the fields likely won't occur until the fall of 2010 or the spring of 2011, depending on location and crop. However, you'll likely get a sense of interest in this program in the first few months of 2010, as farmers talk among themselves and respond to the RFPs.

The targeted lands are in the following states and watersheds (some of which span two or three states), which are fairly evenly distributed throughout the overall Mississippi River watershed:

  • AR: Bayou Macon, BoeufRiver, Cache, Deer-Steele, Lake Conway-Point Remove, L'Anguille, Little River Ditches, Lower St. Francis

  • IL: LowerIllinoisSenachwineLake, Pecatonica, Sugar, Upper Illinois, Upper Rock, Vermilion (Upper Mississippi River sub-basin and Upper Ohio River sub-basin)

  • IN: Eel, Upper East Fork White, Upper Great Miami, Upper Wabash, Vermilion (Upper Ohio River sub-basin), Wildcat

  • IA: Boone, Lower Grand, Maquoketa, North Raccoon, Upper Cedar

  • KY: Bayou De Chien-Mayfield, Licking, Lower Green, Obion, Red River

  • LA: Bayou Macon, BoeufRiver, Deer-Steele

  • MN: Middle Minnesota, Root, Sauk, Upper Cedar

  • MO: Cache, Little River Ditches, Lower Grand, Lower St. Francis, North Fork Salt, South Fork Salt

  • MS: Big Sunflower, Deer-Steele, Upper Yazoo

  • OH: Upper Great Miami, Upper Scioto, Upper Wabash

  • TN: Bayou De Chien-Mayfield, Forked Deer, Obion, Red River, South Fork Obion

  • WI: Pecatonica, Sugar, Upper Rock

  • Map of watersheds.

To track down the farmers and affected lands of interest to your audience, and find out when the RFPs will be published:

As results come in from the pilot projects, they may be used to improve regulations, policies, and initiatives.