November 26, 2022

Incentives proposed for soil, water quality

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment in a four-part series on changes to Iowa farming.

I think if we’re looking at the Farm Bill, we should look at the big picture,” panelist Francis Thicke said in Greenfield Thursday. “What we see is that agriculture is not profitable to farmers, it’s not environmentally friendly and it’s not good for rural communities. Who’s it good for? It’s good for corporations that sell input to farmers and buy the products.”

The Warren Cultural Center in Greenfield hosted four guest panelists Thursday to discuss the Farm Bill as a part of their successful community speakers series.

The Farm Bill is a package of legislation passed every five years that has a big impact on farming livelihoods, how food is grown and what kinds of foods are grown. The bills also include subsidies or payments to farmers that meet certain criteria. Each farm bill has a unique title. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 expires in 2023.

Thicke is a dairy farmer, member of the Farmers Union, has a Ph.D. in soil fertility and worked in the USDA Extension in soil science.

“We need to tie environmental performance with these subsidies for water quality and environmental issues,” he said. “One specific thing is water quality. You know here in Iowa, and all around the country, we’ve had a huge water quality problem. We’re really not making progress. Some farm organizations will tell us we are making progress, but we are not.”

Thicke said in the past nine years, water quality in Iowa has gotten worse in many regards.

An IOWATER report showed many of Iowa’s water quality problems can be traced to poor soil health, excessive application of agricultural chemicals, and manure spills and leaks from commercial animal feedlots.

“What we need to do, I think, is have a requirement for a water quality plan when we farm,” Thicke said. “The 1985 farm bill there was a requirement that any farm who had highly erodible land had to have a soil conservation plan. That plan had to bring the soil erosion down to a certain tolerance level. So they would put their practices in the computer, the computer had the data from research and would spit out how much erosion you’re going to get. Too much erosion then you had to go back and change your practices so you met that tolerance level.”

Thicke suggested water quality be treated the same way by measuring nitrogen and phosphorous levels. “I think that’s the only way we’re going to do a water quality plan is doing it very similar to our soil conservation plan,” he said.

Panelist and Greenfield farmer Randy Caviness said he agrees conservation is an important part of the Farm Bill. “I think water quality is huge,” he said. “If you’re going to pollute the river, you shouldn’t get subsidies.”

Cheyenne Roche


Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.