Gulf Hypoxia -- More From Ag Secretary Bill Northey

December 14, 2012 10:53 AM

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is aimed at reducing N&P runoff into the Gulf of Mexico and waterways along the way. Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy is out for comment and your Inputs Monitor strongly urges you to take a close look. I asked Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey to elaborate on how the discussion got started, and what he has found out so far.

Northey stressed that these efforts are to be state driven under EPA guidance and in a previous excerpt, I reported that efforts made at reducing nutrient flow into the Gulf are all on a voluntaryhypoxic basis. The Secretary also pointed out that a variety of methods would have to be deployed. Sorting out how each could be implemented and how much of the costs incurred would be passed onto the individual grower will take time.

The state of Iowa is taking careful, methodical steps and has plenty of time to research a strategy that will have a genuine environmental impact without forcing farmers to alter production practices. Click here to see the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy proposal. From there you will find links to the comment section. An excerpt from our conversation follows.

INPUTS MONITOR: How long has reducing the level of Gulf Hypoxia due to nutrient runoff been a topic of discussion?

NORTHEY: "The EPA Hypoxia Taskforce itself started meeting about 12 or 13 years ago, but it's only been in the last four or five years that they have said, 'OK, now what we need is each state to come up with their own plan of a reduction.' This is going to be state driven…it's not going to be federal or EPA driven. It needs to be driven by the states, that's what we advocate and that's what EPA advocates. So we started putting the effort together a little over two years ago now to look at the science saying that, 'we want not just a plan about what will happen, we want a basis for understanding of what we should be asking folks to do.'

I constantly heard from farmers, saying, 'I'd sure be glad to do something, tell me what to do.'

We could say change your rates but we don't know how much that is going to change. We could encourage cover crops but I don't know what the impact is. The study really went about reviewing all of the literature so we can say, there would be a 6% reduction with cover crops done this way or 14% done this way.

The crazy thing is that phase alone took us almost two years to get through. But it wasn't just a review of the literature -- we wanted to figure out what did those ideas cost. We also wanted to figure what the likely adoption rates would be. Its different from one end of the state to the other. If you have tile lines you are more likely to use a bio-filter, maybe you don't have tile lines and you won't use a bio-filter, etc.

So we had to figure out those pieces, be able to do economics, figure out how much this is going to cost to a farmer -- that will tell us more about what perceived adoption rates would be. Otherwise it would be very easy for a non-farmer to come up and just say, 'everybody should cover crop' and we say now wait a minute, you've got guys out there that have to do some tillage, they are not going to cover crop -- you've got guys that have to put on some manure off a hog facility.

No-one reports what nitrogen application rates are. No one has to and we are not sure we want anybody to have to, but we would sure like to know what the rates are and if we are seeing some change in those rates over time or the timing of those rates over time. We don't even have great baseline in some of these pieces yet."


Moving forward, growers have a chance to see where the strategy is headed but the call for comments is only open into the first part of January 2013 so take a moment and familiarize yourself with what lies ahead for efforts at reducing nutrient flow to the Gulf.

Photo credit: eutrophication&hypoxia / Foter / CC BY

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