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Sunday
Nov082015

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.