Illinois project looks to reduce fertilizer runoff into waterways

27 August 2013 23:36  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--In an effort to reduce fertilizer runoff and improve the region’s water quality, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced the commencement of a three-year demonstration project to encourage the planting of cover crops, state agricultural officials said on Tuesday.

There has been an increase in public concern across the Corn Belt region over the rise in runoff from nitrogen-based fertilizers into local waterways and into the Mississippi river, with the fertilizers eventually ending up in the Gulf of Mexico. The discharged nitrates have ended up resulting in a hypoxic fish-kill zone.

Quinn said that the project serves the purpose of establishing a model for protecting the state’s natural resources without restricting agricultural growth. It is felt by agronomists that cover crops will hold not only the soil in place but prevent excessive release of fertilizer applications and residual crop nutrients left post-harvest.

The project will start this fall with 14 plots being planted across the state immediately after the corn and soybean harvest is completed.

Cover crops being considered are grasses and legumes that are thought to improve or maintain ecosystem quality because beyond lessening runoff these varieties are known to improve soil conditions, combat weeds and help break cycles of plant disease.

Some critics have urged farmers to reduce the amount of fertilizer used in row crops, or even abandon crucial fall applications, as these can be prone to heavy rains in early spring that are known to leech the nutrients out of the ground.

Farmers have not been willing to embrace that idea, as fall is traditionally a period where significant preparations for the next spring’s planting occurs.

Fertilizer producers would likely not be enthusiastic about the change as the post-harvest months bring about the refilling period, which sees large amounts of all crop nutrients being placed into distribution terminals and retail outlets and is a considerable basis for their overall yearly volumes.

“Illinois is a leading agricultural state because of its ability to adopt sustainable farming practices that protect our valuable soil and water resources without sacrificing productivity," Quinn said. "This project is a good example of the industry’s commitment to our environment."

The state’s approach is supported by a report released on Tuesday by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) that stated that current voluntary conservation efforts have helped to reduced sediment and nutrient loss from farms within the Mississippi river basin.

The report, released by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, shows conservation work such as controlling erosion and managing nutrients has reduced the edge-of-field losses of sediment by 35%, nitrogen by 21% and phosphorous by 52%.

“Farmers and ranchers work hard to conserve the land and water, and today's report shows the tremendous impact they've had for the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico,” said USDA secretary Tom Vilsack.


By: Mark Milam



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