U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack returned to his adopted home state last week, in part to help promote innovative agricultural conservation practices. On Friday, his travels took him to the rural La Porte City farm of Nick and Nancy Meier.
Before addressing a gathering of area residents, farmers and other visiting lawmakers and dignitaries, Vilsack toured portions of the farm to get an up-close look at some of the conservation strategies the Meiers have adopted. As the Secretary viewed examples of a saturated buffer, bioreactor and cover crops, Meier shared some of the insights he has gained from implementing these strategies, including some of the early returns of data that has been collected.
Following the tour, Vilsack was joined by the mayors of Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, La Porte City and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, whose brief remarks praised Iowa farmers for their innovation, noting that some of the technologies on display at the Meier farm got their start in Iowa.
Vilsack echoed Northey’s comments, saying, “This is the future. Right here on this farm. This is the way it’s going to go. This is the way conservation is going to be advanced. This is how we continue that relationship between city and rural areas and make sure we are one Iowa.”
“The strength, the freedom, the liberties that we enjoy in this country are centrally linked to productive agriculture,” he continued.
Vilsack closed his remarks with a call to action, referencing the impending lawsuit by the Des Moines Water Works against three northwest Iowa counties that seeks federal oversight of the drainage districts. Attorneys for the defendants deny that farmers’ field tiles are contributing to Des Moines’ high nitrate levels.
Vilsack encouraged state lawmakers and other influential decision-makers to take the initiative to solve Iowa’s water quality issues rather than relying on a federal judge to do so.
“Those in leadership positions need to come together and resolve the dispute that is currently in litigation. [The process] needs to be a consensus-driven, incentive-based system in which we say there is a partnership between those who own the land and farm the land and those who benefit from the activities that take place on that land, whether they’re connected in jobs or whether they drink the water in a city or town in the state,” he said.
Advocating for a consolidation of federal and state resources targeted with a “laser-like focus to make sure we get the most bang for our conservation buck,” Vilsack stressed the importance of making sure such efforts are in sync with the state’s nutrient management program.
The water quality challenges the state currently faces are complex issues that will require persistence and patience, Vilsack stated, adding that solutions will take several years to achieve. He added that choosing to address the work in a cooperative manner offers many benefits.
“This will significantly reduce nitrogen, greatly improve soil health, expand production and pay for itself. It will enhance habitat, expand recreational opportunities, make Iowa an even better and greater state. Iowa has the leadership capacity and the will and the determination to get this done,” he stated.

Video highlights of Secretary Vilsack’s visit: