Two critical conservation practices – managing nutrient loss and
protecting soil fr om water run-off – can greatly enhance the
future of Benton County ag production and help better position
farmers in the expanding sustainability marketplace. Today, the
Benton Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) introduces a new
program that assists local ag producers who want to target best
conservation practices for their operation.

The new program – S.T.A.R. (“Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture
Resources”) – gives ag producers a free tool that assigns points
for each cropping, tillage, nutrient application, and soil
conservation activity used on individual fields. The total points
convert to a rating of 1-to-5 “Stars” for each individual field –
points earned through conservation management practices.

S.T.A.R. makes its debut in Iowa this fall, sponsored by the
Conservation Districts of Iowa (CDI) which selected the Benton SWCD
to help inaugurate this significant push to promote soil health and
water quality in Iowa.

Benton SWCD Board Chairman Henry Wehrman encourages local ag
producers to sign up now for the free tool and take advantage of the
short- and long-term benefits participation reaps. “We’re happy
CDI selected our county to be part of this pilot program, and I
believe local farmers will respond,” Wehrman says. Benton County is
one of 25 southeast Iowa counties joining the pilot program for
2020-2021.

“We have a culture of respect for the land here, with an
understanding that farming is a business,” says Wehrman. “The
S.T.A.R program works to sustain the land through workable
conservation practices, while potentially increasing productivity and
net profitability. It takes a commitment to accomplish those goals.
S.T.A.R. is a path forward."

According to CDI President Dennis Carney, landowners and ag
producers who sign up for the free S.T.A.R. program can expect
“unexpected” benefits. “When a landowner commits to applying
sound soil health and water quality practices to their fields in a
program that evaluates and documents their success – which S.T.A.R.
does – they may see both conservation and economic benefits,”
says Carney. “Certainly, we can establish decreased nutrient loss,
keep more phosphorus in the field, and prevent water runoff. But also
consider the potential for increased net farm income, and a chance to
leverage market premiums fr om buyers who more and more demand proof
that farm products be grown in sustainable environments.”

S.T.A.R Program Director Carlee Sabus adds that participation in
S.T.A.R. might assist operators in securing local conservation cost
share (when available), assist in obtaining documentation to support
potential water quality issues, and help landowners evaluate tenants’
contributions to conservation.

To sign up, farm operators fill out the free S.T.A.R. tool – a
simple field form that Sabus says takes about three minutes to answer
questions for one field. Participants earn recognition fr om
community members for their progress in showing that agriculture
production can be sustainable, and given certificates to recognize
their cooperation. Each field is assigned a “S.T.A.R.” rating fr
om one-to-five stars.

“We believe operators who sign up for S.T.A.R. will discover how
easy it can be to prevent runoff and protect our water supplies,”
says Sabus. “They’ll see the importance of taking the time to
plan and execute a sustainable farming strategy that gives back
tremendous rewards.”

For learn more or sign up, please
contact S.T.A.R. Program Manager Carlee Sabus at carlee@cdiowa.org.



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