Iowa farmers must lead the fight for clean water

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Kevin Kinney, guest columnist

Farmers have been getting lots of attention, especially when it comes to the impact of agriculture on Iowa’s water quality. It makes sense. The things that farmers do can affect the quality of Iowa’s rivers, streams and lakes.

I’m a farmer and a legislator, which is why I recently invited both state and local elected officials to join me for a tour of Eldon C. Stutsman, Inc. in Hills. A group of Democratic and Republican state legislators accepted that invitation, some from rural districts and some from urban districts.

I was especially pleased that we were joined by members of the Board of Supervisors for Washington and Johnson Counties. Clean water is not just a state-level issue and we would be smart to pay closer attention to what local people are saying.

Stutsman’s is a family-owned business that employs almost 200 Iowans. It is the largest supplier of agricultural products in Eastern Iowa. Stutsman sells everything from feed ingredients, to field equipment and from precision sprayers to everything involved in waste handling.

The big take-away from our visit was learning how technological advances in agricultural are allowing farmers to use fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides in a more sustainable way. These advances will reduce farmers’ costs while putting fewer chemicals and waste products into the soil.

Improved tillage practices are key part of these changes. Cover crops like rye, turnips and radishes help create healthy soil. They also reduce soil erosion while helping to retain moisture. That additional moisture creates more nutritious soil that generates less runoff. Less runoff means fewer chemicals enter waterways and reduces potential flood damage.

We also talked about how farmers benefit when they share information. DriftWatch, for example, is a voluntary way that farmers, beekeepers and pesticide applicators cooperate. Through mapping and communication, they coordinate spraying to protect specialty crops and bee hives.

Because of who we are and our commitment to the long-term future of Iowa, farmers must take a leading role in the fight for clean water. Better, smarter farming practices are good for agriculture, good for Iowa’s environment and good for every Iowan in the long run.

• Iowa Rep. Kevin Kinney (D-Oxford) represents Senate District 39, which includes all of Keokuk County, most of Washington County and western and southern portions of Johnson County.

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