The U.S. Department of Agriculture is setting aside $80 million a year for water-quality improvement projects in the Mississippi River Basin.
The Ag Department will target money from existing conservation programs to key watersheds that are polluting the Mississippi.
The USDA's Dave White says projects will be voluntary, and farmers can benefit by adopting practices that protect the water and improve yields.
"If you can save money on fertilizer, that's like putting money in your pocket," White said. John Jaschke, director of Minnesota's Board of Water and Soil Resources, said the state has been making progress in putting marginal farmland into conservation, but the new money will help.
"We're going to be able to reach, hopefully with the state as a strong partner, hopefully others, conservation groups or habitat groups, agricultural groups, reach a critical mass of retiring the lands that are the most sensitive and ecologically important," Jaschke said.
The USDA will award grants in a competitive process where each of the twelve states will propose projects in large watersheds. States and farmers will invest in the projects too, and the results will be tracked over time.
The goal of the project is to reduce the pollution that contributes to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and will last four years.