The quest for a reduction in N&P and sediment runoff from farms has won praise from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. States along the Mississippi River Basin are working with farmers to devise strategies to keep more nutrient where it belongs -- in the field.
To that end, the State of Iowa has announced $2.8 million in funding dedicated to helping farmers implement first-time nutrient reduction practices to help protect water quality. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey's office said in a release this week that nearly 1,100 Iowa farmers have applied for nutrient reduction funding for cover crops and other conservation practices.
In an earlier interview, Northey told the Monitor, "I'm personally of the belief that a regulatory approach isn't going to get it done. Regulations often narrow it down to one or two approaches and that's not going to be what is going to work on everybody's farm. Some guys no-till, some guys farm in some deep black soil and he feels like he needs to plow it. Some guy has manure he needs to knife it in and he can't wait till spring to do it. We need lots of choices for farmers to be able to engage in their operation."
Farmers in Iowa and all over the Mississippi Basin have joined the voluntary effort to minimize fertilizer runoff and erosion. As more states introduce their own strategies, a better understanding of best practices with an eye toward nutrient efficiency will emerge.
Northey continued, "We want, not just a plan about what will happen... we want a basis for understanding what we should be asking folks to do. There are a lot of things we don't know yet, but if we wait until we know all of those things, we are another 20 years down the road."
The Environmental Protection Agency has called for a reduction in fertilizer and sediment runoff, but has been quick to recognize that blanket regulations would not address farms as individual operations. In order to be effective, nutrient reduction needs farmers to take action and to seek out sound practices based in science. So far, voluntary efforts have yielded impressive results and as growers implement nutrient reduction strategies in their own operations, increased efficiency will not only help protect the watershed but will likely lead to increased yields on participating farms.