Iowa Public Television


Policy Leaders Launch Hypoxia Tour

posted on September 25, 2009

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. A drop in sales tempered last month's encouraging economic numbers but several indicators point to a slow and steady recovery.

The Conference Board's Index of Leading Economic Indicators was up for the fifth consecutive month with five of the ten indices in positive territory.

Sales of new homes posted a small increase last month. Even though it was the strongest report in 11 months the increase failed to meet market expectations.

Despite the encouraging numbers consumers continue to hold on to their money. Orders for durable goods declined 2.4 percent last month after posting an increase of more than four percent in July.

Even with many market indicators in positive territory trading on Wall Street this week was relatively flat.

And U.s. Government numbers show the average value of farmland declined four percent across the county this year. In the Midwest prime production land fell as much as six percent in value.

Drainage from that farmland has been blamed for several ills in rural America. Among them is hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the blame for what is now called the "Dead Zone" has been laid at the foot of production agriculture. But solutions to combat expansion of the hypoxic region are under development. This week a group of dignitaries visited the heartland to see what new weapons are being brought to bear in the battle against the Dead Zone.


Policy Leaders Launch Hypoxia Tour

More than one hundred policy makers, environmental leaders, and agricultural representatives descended on the Corn Belt this week, hoping to mitigate nutrient runoff from farmland. Members of the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force toured a series of Iowa operations varying from a traditional family farm to research facilities.

Many discussions centered on agricultural implications of the so-called "Dead Zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. The environmentally-ravaged region of coastal water has suffered for years under an annual algae bloom that chokes off oxygen and decimates sea life. Many researchers have traced the hypoxia zone back to nitrogen and phosphorous runoff throughout the Corn Belt. But, federal officials this week, assured Market to Market that Agricultural runoff is only one contributor to the "Dead Zone."

Peter Silva, U.S. EPA, Assistant Administrator for Water: "One thing we haven't been able to address quite frankly is non-point source. And that is not just farming. That's you and me putting nutrients on our lawns, oil from our cars in to the street. I don't think we should be pointing fingers but everybody should take responsibility and that's why we are working with the farmers. Everybody know Hypoxia is caused primarily by nutrient runoff into the Mississippi and that is, by nature, due to agriculture."

Sec. Bill Northey, Iowa Dept. of Agriculture : "Generally, if you run into somebody that blames agriculture for all their problems then that means they don't know enough of the story. And that's really what we tried to do today. Show some of the technological issues and environmental issues that farmers face."

During their Midwestern Tour, Task Force members were coached on the merits of field management…

Dr. Matt Helmers, Iowa State University: "And as we see here if you just get some cover on your field it can make a huge difference in the amount of runoff in the nearby watershed."

…And the nuts and bolts of modern harvesting equipment.

Sec. Bill Northey, Iowa Dept. of Agriculture: "And these pinchers pull those kernels off and throw the silage aside."

After visiting an Iowa farm, Task Force members examined research test plots conducted by Iowa State University.

Prof. BLANK: "What we are really trying to do here is examine the water runoff from these fields and see what leeches out."

ISU test plots match traditional corn planting alongside unfertilized prairie grass, and no-till corn hoping to measure the varying levels of nitrogen runoff and potential environmental impacts. But the newest nitrogen-mitigation efforts in Iowa focus on the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, or CREP.

Sec. Bill Northey, Iowa Dept. of Agriculture: "Producers really like a program like the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. It's a voluntary program where a group of producers can go together and say we want to proactively put this wetland in the landscape. It will reduce the amount of nitrogen that is leaving and increase their productivity. And its being done voluntary and not by regulation."

Funded by a joint USDA and State of Iowa partnership, CREP wetlands are strategically placed to filter a region's agricultural inputs and simultaneously boost wetland habitat. Recent ISU analysis claims CREP wetlands can remove 40-90 percent of nitrates and more than 90 percent of herbicides from upper-lying cropland. While proponents of the wetlands pledge the efforts are a first step, some Gulf Coast representatives hope the efforts can be strengthened.

Bryon Griffith, Director, U.S. EPA Gulf of Mexico Office: "The evidence is still yet to be tendered that we can come together as clear cooperators and move beyond the studies. This is a success story. The question is can you scale it up to 6 million acres in Iowa. This is a scale issue."

Nitrogen-mitigation efforts received a boost this week as USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack pledged $320 million to curb farm chemical runoff. The plan to assist farmers and landowners throughout the Mississippi River watershed will be distributed over the next four years.


Tags: ecology Gulf of Mexico marine life news