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Des Moines Water Works, other entities purchase seeder to increase cover crop acres

The $600,000 project is getting mostly positive, but some mixed reactions from nutrient, water and economic experts.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Des Moines Water Works announced a plan last week to purchase a seeder to increase areas with cover crops.

The main goal is to improve surface water quality in the Des Moines and Racoon River watersheds.

Cover crops also slow erosion and improve soil health. They prevent nitrogen and phosphorous from leaving farmland, thus entering public waterways.

The partnership includes the Iowa Department of Agriculture who will contribute up $350,000. $150,000 is coming from federal pandemic relief money. 

The City of Des Moines and Des Moines Public Works are contributing $75,000 and $25,000 respectively toward the project.

"Cover crops are the main component of improving soils. Now if we can effectively do that, you'll have landowners and farmers who will want to pay for cover crops themselves," said John Swanson, water resources planner with Polk County.

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Therein lies the problem, according to University of Iowa professor Dr. Silvia Secchi: she believes the solution is a band-aid that does not work economically.

"The main problem, and the reason why they're a band-aid is that they are annual practices, and they essentially will not occur without subsidies. So the moment you take out the subsidies, the band-aid is gone," Secchi told Local 5.

Flood prevention is another aspect of incorporating cover crops.

"Des Moines recently did a study with the Iowa Flood Center. It said the best way to stop flooding in Des Moines was to improve upstream soils," Swanson added.

While only one planter has been purchased so far, that could be expanded to several in the future.

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