You Can Help Fight the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone”
Indiana is part of the fertile corn belt of the Midwest. But what is done on this farm ground can have a devastating affect on the Gulf of Mexico. But scientists are studying new ways to lessen the Midwest’s environmental impact and improve water quality.
The Mississippi River basin drains approximately 41% of the land area of the continental United States, ranging as far west as Idaho, north to Canada, and east to Massachusetts. For us here in St. Joseph County, all the properties in the Kankakee River watershed affect the Gulf of Mexico. The Kankakee River starts approximately 5 miles southwest of South Bend and winds it’s way towards the Illinois River, approximately 50 miles southwest of Chicago, which is a principal tributary of the Mississippi River.
The Mississippi River dumps massive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus into the Gulf, which feeds algal blooms. When the algae die and drift to the bottom, oxygen is sucked out of the water, creating a massive area inhospitable to support most marine life in bottom and near bottom water. It’s a condition called hypoxia. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts the so-called “dead zone” in the Gulf to grow larger than the size of Connecticut, or roughly 6,000 square miles.
Upstream farmers can’t just stop using fertilizer and pesticides all together without massive changes in our food system. So, what can you do now to help reduce pollutants from reaching our waterways?
With the help of Clean Water Indiana (CWI), the St Joseph, Marshall, & Starke County SWCD’s have a grant to improve water quality by helping producers utilize all aspects of the conservation cropping systems (no-till, cover crops, nutrient management, & filter strips) which will improve soil health, reduce erosion & nutrient runoff in the Kankakee Watershed.
Cover crops have the potential to provide multiple benefits in a cropping system. They prevent erosion, improve soil’s physical and biological properties, supply nutrients, suppress weeds, improve the availability of soil water, and break pest cycles along with various other benefits. The species of cover crop selected along with its management determine the benefits and returns.
Nutrient Management is defined as the management of the 4R's:
Right amount (rate)
Right placement (method of application)
Right timing of commercial fertilizers, manure, soil amendments, and organic by-products to agricultural landscapes as a source of plant nutrients while protecting local air, soil and water quality.
No-till means planting into last year's crop residue without tilling the soil. The primary benefit of no-till farming is reduced soil erosion and sediment runoff.
Vegetative filter strips are land areas of either planted or indigenous vegetation, situated between a potential pollutant-source area and a surface-water body that receives runoff. The term 'buffer strip' is sometimes used interchangeably with filter strip, but filter strip is the preferred usage. Runoff may carry sediment and organic matter, and plant nutrients and pesticides that are either bound to the sediment or dissolved in the water. A properly designed and operating filter strip provides water quality protection by reducing the amount of sediment, organic matter, and some nutrients and pesticides in the runoff at the edge of the field, and before the runoff enters the surface-water body. Filter strips also provide localized erosion protection since the vegetation covers an area of soil that otherwise might have a high erosion potential.
To reduce nutrient loading within the watershed, our program will offer a cost-share program for new acres for cover crops, no-till, nutrient management & filter strips. If you are interested in learning more or applying for this cost share opportunity contact our office at 574-936-2024 Ext. 4, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website at www.stjosephswcd.org.