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Nutrient Reduction -- Grassroots Effort to Hold Regulation at Bay

March 20, 2013
By: Davis Michaelsen, Pro Farmer Inputs Monitor Editor

I recently had a chance to visit with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey in his office in Des Moines. At a meeting in Grundy Center the week before, Secretary Northey spoke to growers about the differences between a Federal regulatory approach to nutrient management vs. a grassroots, voluntary effort on the part of individual growers, driven by each state. The key to avoiding government regulation on the farm will be up to the efforts that growers put in to their own Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

States like Iowa and other Ag-centered states understand that each farm is unique and that an 'across-the-board' regulation would not suit American agriculture. Growers are asked to take a look at their operations and to make decisions based on the possibilities and limitations of their individual program. At this point in time, Northey believes that regulations can be held at bay as long as a visible effort toward nutrient reduction is initiated by growers.

While the Secretary spoke mostly to the situation in Iowa, 12 states are required to come up with a Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Most states will have ideas in place by the first of April and if your state hasn't brought it up publicly yet, they will soon. Below, Northey gives a rough idea of where the process is now in Iowa, where it is headed and how individual growers in any state can start making efforts to slow the flow of nutrient to the Gulf.

MONITOR: Let's say I'm a farmer at home and I've been on the internet and I've read over this Nutrient Reduction Strategy and have a feeling that I would really like to do something. What would you as the Secretary like to see that will help this process?

SECRETARY NORTHEY: For each of the folks, they will figure out what areas work for them. If you're a livestock producer, for example, it means to knife in manure and you're probably not going to be putting in cover crops on that ground before you knife in hog manure in the fall. What you've got to do is look at the different tools that would work and then you find out where to get more information.

There may be some cost-share available in some of those areas - there will certainly be field days and our University Extension will be, and has been, very engaged in offering up ideas.

It would be good to hook up with Iowa's Ag Clean Water Alliance Organization. That is a group of about 13 co-ops that are working in the Raccoon River and the Des Moines River watershed and have been for a dozen or so years, trying to put these practices on the ground - actually in some cases creating plans for farmers of some sort.

To me that's very different than the government requiring people to do plans. That feels like a framework that could turn into regulation and I'm not interested in that. The farmers themselves or their suppliers developing plans about what we can do is a different animal to me - more organic. It allows people to figure this out for themselves and not feel that there is a regulatory risk to it.


No mater what state you farm in, growers, livestock producers and farm groups must stay out in front of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture is convinced that if EPA perceives a concentrated, voluntary effort at Nutrient Reduction, regulations will not be imposed. Check in with your local University Extension website and find out where the conversation around nutrient reduction is headed in your state. Part III of the Inputs Monitor's weekly blog will have more from the Northey interview on Friday.

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