Agricultural Conservation Has Positive Impact

Jul 5, 2016

Algae blooms, like this one in western Lake Erie from 2014, form when nutrient-rich river water enters a lake or other large body of water. Farms, wastewater treatment facilities and impervious urban surfaces all contribute to excess nutrients entering waterways.
Credit NASA | NOAA

Voluntary conservation practices in farming may have a significant environmental impact from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. That’s according to new a federal study measuring agricultural conservation in the Upper Mississippi River Basin.

The study reports voluntary conservation practices are reducing the amount of fertilizer, nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, in the Upper Mississippi River Basin by as much as 34-percent.

The U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted the study. Lee Norfleet, a division leader for the Conservation Effects Assessment Program, a division of the USDA, says reducing the amount of nitrogen runoff is important for lessening the environmental impact agriculture can have on waterways.

“Mostly you’re going to see it in the form of algae and reduced oxygen supply and then that starts choking the aquatic life.”

In Indiana, it can cause algae blooms, which turn streams and lakes bright blue or green and can be toxic to humans and fish. Those algae blooms, in turn, leach oxygen from the water— that impact flows all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

But Norflett says that 34-percent reduction in runoff is “a pretty big number.”

He adds farmers aren’t solely responsible for nutrient runoff—wastewater treatment practices and urban runoff also play a role.