By US Water Alliance

August 20, 2020

Driving Innovation to Support both the Environment and the Farmer 


Established in 1964, the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), the largest soybean association in the nation, was founded “by farmers to serve farmers. Water management can be a challenging issue in Iowa, particularly when it comes to agricultural landscape practices. To overcome this, ISA has emerged as a One Water champion, exploring and promoting water management practices that benefit farmers, watersheds, and the people who live within Iowa’s watersheds. ISA’s leadership in building bridges between the agricultural community and other key water stakeholders in Iowa has earned the organization the 2020 US Water Prize for Outstanding Nonprofit Organization.  


Core to ISA’s ability to collaborate across sectors is the trusting relationships the organization has built with farmers. To build this trust, ISA gathers data and facilitates peer‐to‐peer exchanges on how to achieve multiple benefit water solutions that bolster both the health of the entire watershed and the efficiency of individual farm operations. This information is shared at Research and Results forums across the state, reaching hundreds of farmers in four locations each year. 


Rooted in the agricultural community, ISA carries out joint projects with non-agricultural stakeholders to show how certain farming practices that protect Iowa’s waterways also can significantly benefit the bottom line of farmers. In 2019, with support for the Walton Family Foundation, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Strategic, Ltd., ISA examined how conservation practices impact on-farm profitability. The study examined reduced- or no-till practices that can have positive impacts on streamflow and reducing phosphorus pollution. It also found that such practices could save farmers $220 million to $265 million annually.  


ISA is also deeply engaged in watershed planning throughout IowaISA does watershed planning the right way. From placing farmers front and center to coordinating diverse partnerships, from logging the miles for field assessments to using and developing the latest technologies, ISA’s approach is best-in-class. Groups across Iowa and the U.S. know this, and funding partners value the long-term impacts of ISA’s leadership. Over the last five years, ISA has developed 23 watershed plans. During that time, the total cost to develop those plans has amounted to just over $900,000. Nearly a million dollars’ worth of work on farmers’ behalf that benefits rural towns and urban areas. ISA helps Iowa’s communities overcome  barriers to collaborative planning by providing the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) to planning efforts. From 20162019, ISA completed ACPF analysis for 81 watersheds throughout Iowa covering 1.8 million acres. These analyses, combined with other tools, contributed to 23 watershed plans, which garnered more the $38 million for implementation projects. ISA is proud that local watersheds across Iowa have realized a value of $42 for every $1 invested in ISA watershed planning. 


The Iowa Soybean Associations approach to One Water is pushing towards an inclusive systems approach that enables real progress toward water quality and quantity goals, in a way that benefits all. Watch our video about the Iowa Soybean Assocation below.