GULF HYPOXIA ZONE IS SMALLER THAN PREDICTED

Every summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measures and releases information about the size of the hypoxia zone* in the Gulf of Mexico.  Because of the drought in 2012, because all the nutrients that were applied went unused as the crops failed to grow, and because of the massive rainfall some of the Midwest experienced this spring, NOAA predicted the zone to be at least 20 percent larger in 2013.

2013 hypoxizWe were all surprised to hear that the zone is not nearly that large.  In fact, the zone is very nearly the average size.

This means that although some would like to believe that we have nutrient runoff and the causes of hypoxia zones down to an exact science, the fact that we can’t accurately predict a significant increase or decrease means that there’s a lot we still don’t know.

That is exactly why the Council on Best Management Practices, of which IL Corn and several other agri-business and associations are members, is working to build more science and more data regarding hypoxia and nutrient runoff.  Very little scientific data about agriculture’s contribution to the problem exists.

Plan to tune in every Tuesday this month on Corn Corps as we explore more about the water quality issues facing Illinois farmers and how farmers really are trying their best to manage and solve the problems facing those of us that drink water.

phil thorntonPhil Thornton
ICGA/ICMB Value Added Director

*Hypoxia zones are “dead zones” which are devoid of life.  This occurs because nutrients make their way into the water system, encourage the increasing growth of small microorganisms, and then deoxygenate the water as all these small organisms die and decompose.  As large sections of water become oxygen-free, fish and other wildlife can’t live causing fish die-offs and serious impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries. 

Many environmentalists would like to believe that agriculture is a substantial contributor to nutrient runoff and hypoxia zones.  However, to date, no solid research has been done on what agriculture’s contribution to this problem really is.  If agriculture has a significant impact, farmers are already poised to change their practices and do their best to minimize runoff.  If other industries are more at fault than currently assumed, everyone must step up to the plate to minimize nutrient runoff problems.

LAWNS ARE ADDING TO CHESAPEAKE BAY POLLUTION, STUDY SAYS

from the Washington Post, March 28, 2011:

Lawns are adding to Chesapeake Bay pollution, study says.

Grassy turf, not farmland, is the most dominant crop in the bay watershed.  There were almost 1.3 million acres of planted turf in Maryland in 2009, compared with 1.5 million acres of all other crops, says the study by the Environment Maryland Research and Policy Center.

It’s an interesting statement, isn’t it?  Illinois farmers have been closely watching the activity in the Chesapeake Bay, knowing that whatever regulations the EPA plans to minimize hypoxia zones in the bay are headed straight for the Mississippi River next.

And while Illinois farmers are willing to look at their impact to the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico and are willing to adapt Best Management Practices that mitigate the damage to fish and wildlife, they are not willing to accept 100 percent of the blame.

Interesting then, that a new study finally points a finger at other sources.  According to the Washington Post article, the study criticized Maryland’s regulation of the state’s turf crop as lax.  Tracking fertilizer use on developed land is such a low priority that the state doesn’t keep statistics on it, but Maryland Department of Agriculture records show non-farm-use fertilizers are quickly catching up to farm fertilizer sales.

The article further states that researchers found 56 percent of nutrients in one stream in a watershed in suburban Baltimore came from lawn fertilizer.

Ultimately, Illinois farmers hope to see everyone involved in an environmental solution on the Mississippi River.  Just regulating municipalities, farmers, and corporations won’t solve any problems.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director