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Iowa Farmers Plant More Cover Crops, Dead Zone Still Growing

Clay Masters

Iowa farmers are making land use decisions aimed at helping farm chemical runoff curb into streams, rivers and, ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. This year’s dead zone in Gulf is the biggest one ever, and Iowa’s secretary of agriculture says more changes are needed. Bill Northey says cover crops, which keep roots in the ground and prevent nutrients and soil from washing away, are a key practice. But he says statewide only about three to four percent of farmland gets a cover crop. 

"We see it in places where folks have figured out how to make it work in their operations, where friends and neighbors are able to learn from each other and where people have had the chance to be able to spend the last 5 to 10 years getting the experience," says Northey. 

Northey says a state cost-share program helps make cover crops affordable. The program remains completely voluntary and progress in Iowa and across the Mississippi River Watershed is well behind goals a regional task force set for nutrient reduction. 

During this first half hour of this hour of River to River, Amy Mayer talks with Northey. During the second half of the show, she talks with Radio Iowa's Kay Henderson, Donnelle Eller of the Des Moines Register, and Ken Anderson of Brownfield Ag News. 

Lindsey Moon is IPR's Senior Digital Producer
Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames