There has been a demand to increase the use of conservation drainage practices. Demand originated with regional resource concerns such as the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone, Western Lake Erie Basin algal blooms, or the total maximum daily loads (TMDL) in the Chesapeake Bay. Farmers are now starting to create demand themselves as they see the benefits of gaining more control of when and how water leaves their field. A March panel of farmers on the Learning From Leaders webinar series, which was hosted by the Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC) in partnership with the Soil and Water Conservation Society and the Conservation Drainage Network (CDN), revealed that they are wanting to invest in water management. They know the biggest risk is either having too much precipitation or not enough. All four stressed that they manage their drainage systems to build operational resiliency.
Not enough farmers or policy decision makers realize the opportunities that exist with water management. It is on stakeholders to make these audiences aware of the opportunities that exist to drive implementation. That was why implementation was the focus of the recent Conservation Drainage Network 2023 Annual Meeting. The meeting was held in Easton, Maryland from April 4 to 6. The CDN is a national partnership with the goal of improving drainage practices to meet crop demands and improve environmental outcomes. CDN formed in 2019 and evolved from the Agricultural Drainage Management Systems (ADMS) Task Force.
The location was chosen in part to be able to invite high-ranking D.C. agency officials. USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie was one of these officials, and spoke about the opportunities within the $19.5 billion dollar investment in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The IRA may also relieve pressure on traditional EQIP programs, as practices such as cover crops and no-till may get funded through the IRA, leaving more EQIP dollars available for other drainage practices.
The big announcement from the CDN Annual Meeting came when NRCS Deputy Chief for Programs Karen Woodrich told the audience that conservation drainage practices may be eligible for IRA funding if it is tied to a practice that supports a climate systems approach. In NRCS vernacular, this means that the drainage practice must be considered a companion practice of one of the thirteen identified climate smart practices. ADMC will follow up with individual state NRCS programs specialists to make them aware of why drainage practices can be considered a companion practice. It is also important that the individual State Technical Committees (STC) recognize this. It is critical that stakeholders of the drainage industry participate in the STC to be an advocate for the suite of conservation drainage practices.
The location of the CDN Annual Meeting provided attendees with the opportunity to visit their delegates on the hill. ADMC took advantage of the opportunity to educate key legislative staff members on the importance of drainage practices and the barriers that are impeding widescale implementation. One of these visits included staff from the House Ag Committee. Josh Maxwell, Policy Director, was at this meeting and presented at the CDN meeting the following day. During his presentation to the CDN, he mentioned that he learned more about drainage practices and implementation challenges during the 30-minute meeting the previous day than he had heard from his time on the hill.
Multiple staff were looking for input on how to better utilize the Technical Service Provider program. It was stressed many times that it has been 20 years and it is nowhere near where they envisioned the program. Decision makers realize that they will need TSPs to be able to implement the unprecedented level of funding over the next five years. For more information on how to become a TSP, please reach out to ADMC.
The stars seem to be aligning with more farmers looking for ways to control when and how water leaves their field and unprecedented levels of funding to help pay for conservation practices. It is on the stakeholders in the drainage industry to advocate for the importance of water management practices to be able to take advantage of the potential opportunity ahead. ADMC will continue to be a voice for drainage stakeholders and ensure that it is part of the conversation. Please reach out to ADMC if you are interested in engaging as a TSP, on a state technical committee, or to be a part of the coalition. DC
Print this page