Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will fund existing conservation projects in 41 eligible watersheds in 12 states this fiscal year as part of its Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative. The initiative supports USDA’s continuing efforts to help landowners and farmers protect and improve water quality in the Mississippi River Basin in selected watersheds from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

Through approved projects, eligible farmers and landowners voluntarily implement conservation practices that avoid, control and trap nutrient runoff; improve wildlife habitat; restore wetlands; and maintain agricultural productivity. These conservation practices are carried out in a site-specific manner to create a system that addresses natural resource concerns and fits within the operational needs of the farm.

“The Mississippi River travels 2,350 miles through the heart of our nation, collecting water from 40% of the continental United States, including some of the most fertile and productive agricultural land in America,” Vilsak explains. “Through this initiative, we are partnering with farmers and landowners to implement voluntary conservation practices that avoid, control and trap potential pollutants to improve water quality throughout the selected watersheds.”

USDA will make available up to $43 million in financial assistance through conservation programs to support more than 70 existing projects in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service administers the initiative, first announced in 2009 in the participating states.

Key conservation practices include nutrient management, conservation crop rotation and residue and tillage management. Farmers and landowners can also use other conservation practices such as restoring wetlands, planting trees along streams to filter nutrients out of water draining off the farmland, and drainage water management. On a voluntary basis, participants can use financial assistance to install edge-of-field monitoring systems in specific locations within the selected watersheds.

For more information about the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/.