Dead zone in Gulf traced to fertilizer

As discussed by Michael Pollan, most of the Gulf of Mexico pollution can be traced to corn. Farmers err on the side of too much nitrogen fertilizer, and the excess run-off goes down the Mississippi RIver and wreaks havoc in the Gulf. Yet while conservation budgets get sliced, farm subsidies are sacrosanct.

`Dead zone' in Gulf traced to farm counties
Study: 15% create 80% of killer runoff A new study on Monday found that a relatively small percentage of rural counties--many of them in Illinois--are contributing to most of the fertilizer pollution that is creating a summertime “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, where massive algae blooms snuff out most aquatic life.

Counties that represent 15 percent of the Mississippi River basin, which stretches from Montana to western Pennsylvania, account for 80 percent of the spring surge of fertilizer pollution that washes into the river, according to the report by the Washington-based Environmental Working Group.

Among the counties cited in the study are some of the biggest corn-producing counties in the nation, including McLean, LaSalle and Iroquois in Illinois.

Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said the analysis makes a strong argument that more federal money should be shifted from farm subsidies to conservation programs in the areas that contribute the most fertilizer runoff into the river.

Cook noted that thousands of farmers have been denied funding for conservation programs because there wasn't enough money to pay them.

The report noted that subsidy payments were about 500 times greater than conservation payments in the worst polluting counties.
Cook suggested that if a small percentage of the land in the most heavily polluting counties were restored into wetlands or buffer strips, much of the nitrogen pollution from fertilizer could be filtered before it reached the Mississippi. He also said that subsidies should be contingent on whether farmers use fertilizer in responsible ways that reduce runoff.

The study was released at a time when Congress and the Bush administration are preparing to rewrite the 2002 Farm Bill, a package that included generous farm subsidies as well as conservation programs that reward farmers for environmental stewardship.

But as the budget deficit has soared in the years since, Congress has repeatedly cut conservation programs to make up for the shortfall while mostly preserving funding levels for farm subsidy payments.

Oh well, there's always Mars, Biatch, after this planet is destroyed.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on April 11, 2006 10:51 AM.

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