Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey addressed a group of growers in Grundy Center, Iowa on Friday. The topic of conversation quickly turned to Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Iowa is among the top corn-growing states in the U.S. as well as one of the top fertilizer users in America. But some of that fertilizer -- nitrogen and phosphorous in particular -- is finding it's way to the increasing hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico, tainting watersheds along the way. The Nutrient Reduction Strategy is EPA's attempt at motivating states to find ways to reduce N&P runoff.
"In general, we know pieces about what to do. We don't know all the ways to get it done so we are going to have to keep figuring those things out, but in the meantime, we need incentives to get folks trying cover crops and other things in different ways, said Northey. What we are seeing is there definitely are nutrients out there that leave our cropland. A very small amount, but by the time you multiply it by 23 million Iowa acres, you end up with significant contributions from agriculture."
Research trials and meetings with experts from Iowa State University are ongoing, but Northey believes that if Midwestern growers don't take this matter seriously, farmers could wind up under the scrutiny of the Environmental Protection Agency. Northey is hoping farmers in Iowa will take this chance to try out some cover cropping strategies and limit soil erosion.
Northey has appealed to Iowa Governor, Terry Branstad to include 2.4 million dollars in this year's state budget and 4.4 million next year to continue studying the matter and to hire a full time coordinator. "USDA, Nature Conservancy, Soybean Association, lots of folks. There are lots of local water quality projects and we need to coordinate those pieces. But the governor included that in his budget and he's gotten very good reception from the legislature and we will see how it all comes together," Northey said.
Northey was clear that so far, the Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a voluntary effort. EPA is allowing participating states some time to investigate sources and possible solutions of N&P runoff. Northey concluded, "As long as we are perceived [by EPA] as moving closer to a solution, nobody is going to come knocking on your door from the EPA and impose regulations. But we gotta move on this, or it could come down to regulations."