Reflecting on 2020, as strange as it was, it was also a successful year for the Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition. Membership support has continued to increase and has allowed ADMC to build valuable relationships and to educate partners throughout the Midwest and Northern Plains. The increase in membership is due in part to the newest member, Syngenta supporting the coalition at the Diamond level as well as the Plastic Pipe Institute making the jump from the Platinum to Diamond. The support at the Gold level also increased in 2020 thanks to ISG increasing its previous Silver level investment. Others new to the 2020 Gold level were new member Ohio LICA, as well as Iowa LICA who rejoined ADMC. A big thank you is warranted to all members, and especially to existing membership who continue to invest in ADMC to advance the efforts of conservation drainage and water management. Member’s investment in the coalition has made ADMC a go to resource for drainage and water management.
Membership Driven Activities
Edge of Field Roadmap
Membership support has allowed ADMC to lead in collaborations to increase awareness and the science behind water management nationwide. The biggest effort is helping to develop an Edge of Field Road Roadmap that is being organized by The Nature Conservancy, Soil and Water Conservation Society, and the Meridian Institute. The Roadmap will be a document that captures experience from 20+ partners on current water management practices across the U.S. and will develop a shared vision that identifies barriers to adoption and highlights actionable recommendations to increase the pace and scale implementation. The diversity of Roadmap partners has broadened the audience receiving ADMC’s message on the importance intentional water management for agricultural systems. Convening partners TNC and SWCS both have a massive network of members nationwide and internationally. A new audience that ADMC was able to reach directly as a result of the Roadmap partnership were the participants of the Sustainable Ag Summit, which was hosted by Field to Market® and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy™ along with the Pork Checkoff®, the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, and the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef®. ADMC was included as a co-presenter with Cargill, SWCS, TNC, and a Minnesota farmer. The final document and partner organization list will be released in January 2021.
USDA Agricultural Innovation Agenda
ADMC has also taken a more vocal position in 2020 by coordinating with USDA leadership on the importance of water management. Kent Rodelius, ADMC President; and Charlie Schafer, ADMC Chairmen of the Board; along with leadership from the National Association of Conservation Districts and the Land Improvement Contractors Association requested dialogue with the FPAC Under Secretary Bill Northey and the REE Deputy Under Secretary Scott Hutchins about how USDA can make an effort to emphasize drainage water management within USDA’s Agricultural Innovation Agenda (AIA) which calls for increasing production by 40% while decreasing the environmental footprint by 50%. ADMC, NACD, and LICA were granted a 60-minute virtual meeting with leadership. The meeting was well received as the group received an extra 15 minutes of leadership’s time. An outcome of the meeting was that the NRCS appointed Alan Gillespie, NRCS National Water Management Engineer, as the point of contact for the coalition. The USDA is also in the process of selecting Watershed Innovation Labs throughout the U.S. to roll out the technologies included in the AIA. ADMC is monitoring which watersheds are to be included.
Conservation Drainage Network
ADMC helped raise awareness on water management by participating as the Vice-Chair of the Planning Committee for the inaugural Conservation Drainage Network meeting which was held June 3-4, 2020. The meeting was required to be virtual, which made it a new challenge for the planning committee to pull off. Although the beneficial side bar conversations were missing, the meeting was deemed successful based on the reviews of those who attended. The virtual meeting allowed for attendance to increase from past Agricultural Drainage Systems Task Force meetings to 165 people who attended the CDN meeting. An outcome of the Conservation Drainage Network was interest from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture (FFAR) in forming a FFAR sponsored consortium based on agricultural water management. ADMC and Chris Hay of the Iowa Soybean Association are leading the efforts to establish the Core Planning team as well as an Advisory Planning team to explore the interest of establishing a consortium consisting of research universities, industry, and NGOs. The consortium is a tremendous opportunity to bring FFAR expertise and matching funds that could generate up 5-$10 million worth of projects over five years focusing on technology, how drainage can help accomplish soil health and carbon storage goals, practice adoption. FFAR consortiums operate on a 1:1 match, so whatever the consortium invests, FFAR will match it. There is an aggressive timeline to develop the proposal by June of 2021 and obtain commitments by December 2021.
In addition to membership support, ADMC is funded through various contracted work that aligns with the goals and objectives of the coalition. ADMC had three contracted projects in 2020 along with a project that is slated to start as soon as contracts are finalized for the Iowa Systems Approach to Conservation Drainage Regional Conservation Partnership Program project.
Polk County Saturated Buffer Project
The Polk County (IA) Saturated Buffer Project has been the main focus of 2020. It is a SWCD-County-IDALS-NRCS-ADMC partnership that has created a new framework to make a serious effort to install saturated buffers and bioreactors at a significant pace. The initial phases of the project have been successful as 129 tile outlets have been surveyed, with approximately 55 sites having final designs and landowner signatures.
The initial project success is due to the systematic approach used to develop a vision and framework. That framework included the following key elements:
- Prioritize watersheds that had a high occurrence of Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework identified saturated buffer sites
- Incentivize landowner participation by securing matching funding sources to provide 100% cost share plus a temporary construction easement (Polk County included a small incentive payment)
- Recruit landowners/farmers to install multiple sites
- Rely on leadership to streamline the process for landowners
- Bundle the sites together for design and construction to create multiple landowner bid-packages for contractors to deliver more efficiently and cost effectively
The Polk County Saturated Buffer Project is designed to be replicable and ADMC welcomes additional interest. Project leads credit the project success to five keys: (a) Commission led “systems approach” vision; (b) local proactive, project coordinator with established farmer relationships; (c) access to coordinated local, state, and federal funding sources; (d) intentional project management with a clear timeline established; (e) consistent communication to keep partners aware of future project workloads; and (f) experienced public-private leadership to proactively address future bottlenecks.
FSA Cooperative Agreement
ADMC has also entered into a cooperative agreement with FSA to evaluate the accuracy of the saturated buffer output within the Agricultural Planning Framework (ACPF) modelling tool to improve practice adoption efficiency. ACPF has been shown to be a useful tool at identifying where agricultural best management practices can be utilized on a watershed scale. A particularly useful output is the potential edge of field practice placement tool. ADMC will evaluate the effectiveness of ACPF at identifying suitable sites and evaluate how the use of the tool in a concentrated effort can improve the economics and adoption of the practice.
The project looks to accomplish the following objectives:
- Determine how watershed coordinators are utilizing ACPF
- Determine the accuracy of the saturated buffer output with ACPF
- Why are ACPF identified sites rejected after site investigations?
- Why are suitable sites missed by ACPF?
- Identify areas in the Midwest that could benefit from ACPF runs
- Evaluate the cost effectiveness of the Polk County Saturated Buffer Project Model
- Document the process of coordination among agency partners to make the model replicable
- Communicate with Federal and State agencies on the coordination of the Polk County Project to spur interest in expanding efforts.
Soil and Water Conservation Society Edge of Field Process Model
The Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) contracted with ADMC to develop a process model for saturated buffers and bioreactors to break down the time, money, labor, and other resources needed to implement the practices utilizing both state and federal financial assistance programs. The state models were initially focused on funding from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship but are being shown to other Midwest state agencies to garner input and to determine if the model would work in with other state funding sources. SWCS and ADMC have been able to have conversations with state NRCS and state agency personnel from IN, IL, and MN on the model. There are plans to speak with leaders in OH as well. There is currently an open call to graphic designers to help illustrate the model to be informative to farmers as well as agency personnel.
Iowa Systems Approach to Conservation Drainage
ADMC will be a sub-contractor of the Iowa Ag Water Alliance on the NRCS funded Regional Conservation Partnership Program titled the Iowa Systems Approach to Conservation Drainage. ADMC will provide technical support and outreach on conservation drainage practice siting, design, and maintenance. ADMC will also provide group presentations to organizations such as the Iowa Chapter of LICA, drainage districts, ISACD partner meetings, and to ag retail partner meetings.
Much of the contract work in 2020 was Iowa focused, but with it was done with an eye on how to expand similar projects to other states. The FSA cooperative agreement provides dedicated funding for visiting with agency leadership throughout the Midwest to discuss methods of speeding up implementation. The Polk County Project has already gained interest from leaders in Minnesota and Indiana, as well as the ADMC partners of the Illinois Sustainable Ag Partnership. ADMC’s conversation with USDA leadership and its submission to the Ag Innovation Agenda has gotten the ball rolling on reinvigorating USDA interest in Drainage Water Management within the Mississippi River, the Western Lake Erie, and the Red River of the North Basins.