Water Protection Will Remain Important for Agriculture

Water Protection Will Remain Important for Agriculture

Water will stay an important consideration for agriculture going forward. This was the consensus of a panel of speakers at the 2018 Fertilizer Industry Round Table, held recently in Jacksonville, FL.

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Dr. Mike Boehlje, Distinguished Professor Emeritus for Purdue University, pointed out that the focus on water and agriculture goes back many years, but really got became more pronounced once the Lake Erie algae bloom affected drinking water in Toledo, OH, back in the summer of 2014. Blame for this event, fairly or unfairly, centered on phosphorus run-off from agricultural fields.

“This public blame put on agriculture for the algae problem came from a survey conducted by The Ohio State University,” said Boehlje. “Whether it was fact-based or not, agriculture was put on notice.”

He added that since this algae event, several key agricultural product buyers have announced plans to have their business partners do more to further water protection. “Wal-Mart wants to add cover crops on 76 million acres of farmland by 2030 because they want to put sustainability labels on their produce,” said Boehlje. “And General Mills wants to have 100% sustainability for the corn, wheat, and dairy it uses by 2020. That’s less than two years away!”

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Another speaker, Kevin King, Research Leader & Ag Engineer for USDA Agricultural Research Service, said he didn’t think cover crop use was “a solution” for phosphorus issues. Instead, he believed that having growers follow 4Rs management practices might be a better idea. “The industry should also start re-thinking drainage,” said King. “Perhaps growers should consider building retention basins on the farm instead.”

Purdue’s Boehlje concluded his remarks pointing out that water protection issues and agriculture should remain “top of mind” for the entire marketplace. “The Waters of the U.S. won’t go away. It is simply moving down to the state level and into the courts,” he said. “We can’t have regulations that freeze us in place when it comes to managing this issue. Maybe we are moving forward, but we are not moving fast enough.”

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