News Archive

Entries in CRP (2)


Washington County leads in Cover Crops and CRP

Washington County has been a leader in both livestock production and in conservation practices. This is a unique position in Iowa, and the Midwest.

The USDA Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS) just released cover crop planting data for 2016, and Washington County is the leading county in Iowa with 21,353 acres planted in "cover crops" using federal or state incentives and planning assistance. These programs include the the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

According to the 2012 Ag Census, Washington County had 222,000 acres planted in corn, soybeans, or other annual grain crops, which is about average in Iowa. That means that 10% of all crop acres in Washington County were planted in cover crops over the winter in 2016.

Cover crop planting is on the rise. Iowa saw an increase of 18% to 353,000 acres in planted cover crops from 2015 to 2016. Washington County's 21,353 acres accounts for 6% of all the cover crops in Iowa.

ISU Extension has a lot of articles about using cover crops and their impacts.

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

Back in 2014, I wrote about Washington County as the #1 CRP county in Iowa. Acres enrolled in CRP is another measure of conservation practices in a county. At that time, Washington and Keokuk Counties were #1 and #2 in CRP acres.

In 2016, Washington ranks #6 in CRP acres in Iowa with 37,655 acres enrolled, a slight increase over 2013's 37,042 which was top in the state. Keokuk County ranks just ahead at #5 with 37,929 acres.

Three of the top 5 counties are along the southern Iowa border with Missouri and are not big agricultural counties, but they do have a lot of sensitive land - Ringold, Taylor, and Wayne Counties. The other top CRP county is Clayton County in Northeast Iowa, which is physically very large, but average in crop production acres. None of these counties are planting very many acres of cover crops (check the map above).

Washington County is a major hog production county, as well as turkeys and goats. It also is a major organic crop producer. In each of these categories, Washington County sets itself apart as being not only a top ag production county, but also a top conservation county with more cover crops and CRP than any other county.


Compared to the other counties in Iowa's Creative Corridor and other East Central Iowa counties, Washington County is far and away the leading conservation county, with significantly more cover crop and CRP acres than any other county.




Washington County is top Conservation County

Washington County has the most acres in Iowa enrolled in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) with 37,046 acres or 2.6% of the state total.

"The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), established in 1985 by the Reagan administration, is a land conservation program administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the CRP program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality. Contracts for land enrolled in CRP are 10-15 years in length. The long-term goal of the program is to re-establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat."

As a result of the last CRP signup in August 2013, Iowa had 1.39 million acres enrolled in CRP on October 1, 2013, down from 1.53 million acres. This decrease is because there were 183,857 acres that expired from the program, and only 47,418 acres that were accepted in to the program. The average number of CRP acres per county is 14,000.

Washington County had 6,779 acres that expired in 2013 and 3,203 acres that entered the CRP program, resulting in a state leading 37,046 acres. The reason that so many acres expired is that 10-15 years ago, even more acres were enrolled in CRP.

Washington County's 3,203 acres entering CRP in 2013 is the most in Iowa, followed by Keokuk County. This is significant to note because 2013 was the highest corn and soybean prices in Iowa history, averaging over $7 per bushel of corn and $15 per bushel of soybeans in the months leading up to the CRP signup.

This means that with sky-rocketing grain prices, Washington County farmers and property owners did not move to plant as many acres as possible. Instead, Washington County led the state for conservation acres enrolled and also for the number of new CRP contracts (110, 2nd to Keokuk County). Washington County farmers and landowners have a long-term view of caring for the land, and is not lured to plow up sensitive land by spiking grain prices.

Among the top 8 CRP enrollment counties, Washington County has the largest population, as well as the most enrolled acres. Five of the top 8 are on the southern Iowa border with Missouri, having populations between about 5,000 and 8,600. 

Source: USDA CRP 45th Signup, August 2013 County by County Summary

Among the top five hog producing Counties, Washington County has 12,000 more acres of CRP than the other four combined. In Washington County, leadership in livestock numbers is matched by leadership in conservation.

In southeast Iowa, a cluster of four counties account for 9% of all the CRP acres in Iowa - Henry, Jefferson, Keokuk, and Washington Counties.

The Des Moines Water Works has sued three Northwest Iowa counties over water quality. Only one of these three counties has more than the average CRP enrollment, and the other two have half the average CRP enrollment. In 2013, these three counties combined had 2,067 acres that expired from CRP, and only 260 acres that were enrolled in CRP.

Washington County is a unique County in Iowa (and the Midwest).

  • #1 in land conservation with 37,046 acres in CRP
  • #1 in solar with over 4.1 MW of user-owned, distributed power
  • #2 in hog production (which is all locally owned)
  • #3 in organic production
  • #3 in goat production
  • #6 in turkey production (with no avian flu cases in 2015)
  • #14 in population growth (behind the core metro counties)
  • Renewable fuels - Iowa Renewable Energy 30mgpy flex-source biodiesel plant

Source: USDA 2012 Ag Census; USDA CRP Enrollment 2013; Alliant Energy & Iowa Dept. of Revenue

The next CRP signup window is December 1, 2015 through February 26, 2016.