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Nitrogen Nightmare: Could This Simple Idea Curb Farm Runoff Contamination?

Nitrogen Nightmare: Could This Simple Idea Curb Farm Runoff Contamination?

February 9, 2015

Changes in how Midwestern farms are planted could drastically change the environmental impact of corn and soy.

Story originally published on Take Part

How close crops come to a country stream, like those that meander through countless acres of American farmland, may not seem like a major factor when it comes to everything from tap water to your next shrimp cocktail. However, new science finds that laying just a thin strip of grass or other native plants between chemically fertilized lands and the heartland’s free-flowing waters could have a significant impact on the drinking water of millions, not to mention wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico’s growing dead zone.

According to a new report from the Environmental Working Group, leaving just a 35-foot buffer between fields of corn or soy and neighboring streams could reduce nitrogen runoff by 7 percent and phosphorus by 18 percent. In 2013 the state passed the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which set voluntary goals for reducing “non-point pollution”—mainly farm runoff—targeting a 41 percent drop in the nitrogen load running into waterways, and a 29 percent reduction in phosphorus. Plants need both nutrients to grow, and together they are the primary components of chemical fertilizers.

Read the full story here.

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