Cover of 2018 Edge of Field Report

Study on the Adoption of Edge of Field Practices
Soil and Water Conservation Society, 2018

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Substantial progress has been made through Iowa’s Water Quality Initiative (WQI) and other programs in the adoption of conservation practices that help further the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS). Results are demonstrating that, when energy and resources are focused on addressing a resource concern and a concerted effort is made to facilitate practice adoption, genuine improvements are achieved. For example, through the efforts of WQI and other programs the number of acres of cover crops in Iowa has increased from less than 400,000 acres in 2012 to more than 750,000 acres today. Even with the noteworthy increases in cover crop adoption, a great deal of additional work remains to meet the NRS goal of reducing the nitrogen and phosphorus loads to Iowa’s waterbodies by 41% and 29%, respectively.

The same is true for adoption of edge of field practices. According to the 2017 Annual Report for NRS, the state of Iowa has 85 nitrogen- removing wetlands and 82 Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) wetlands that cumulatively treat 203,000 acres. The most conservative scenario for wetlands in the NRS Science Assessment recommends 7.7 million acres treated by wetlands. At the time this report was being developed, there were 20 known bioreactors in the state, and an unknown amount of saturated buffers due to their recent inclusion as an NRS approved practice. One scenario in the NRS Science Assessment requires 138,000 bioreactors (or equivalent edge of field practice, such as a saturated buffer) to reach the 41% nitrogen reduction. In order to scale up to statewide goals, a substantial increase in best management practice adoption is necessary.

An assumption of the NRS Science Assessment, which was confirmed by this study’s interviews, is that even if targets for in-field practices are met there will still be a need for significant adoption of edge of field practices to achieve water quality goals. For that reason, this study was initiated to support WQI efforts to expand the extent and increase the effectiveness of edge of field practices through WQI efforts in Phase II projects. This study focuses on determining the current state of knowledge, training, and technical assistance (TA) available to provide guidance that supports expanded adoption of edge of field practices.

It is important to note that there are other efforts and collaborations at work to address edge of field issues related to scaling up and removing barriers, such as the Conservation Infrastructure Initiative, which has provided recommendations on a wide range of near and long-term strategies and policies. While those efforts address a number of the same issues raised here, this report focuses on collecting information on the process by which adoption of edge of field practices may be effectively increased. In that sense, the report is intended to complement other efforts and provide additional insights on edge of field practice adoption that are of value to WQI.

This report includes a brief description of the methods used in carrying out the study, a summary of results from key informant interviews and site visits, a set of key observations and recommendations, and a set of selected references that provide an overview of the information available on edge of field practices in Iowa.

Suggested Citation
Resolve and Soil and Water Conservation Society. 2018. Report: Study on the Adoption of Edge of Field Practices. Ankeny, IA: Soil and Water Conservation Society.

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