Can Iowa Farmers Meet EPA Hypoxia Zone Targets?

Can Iowa Farmers Meet EPA Hypoxia Zone Targets?

Cost and feasibility for farmers to meet water quality improvements will be discussed at Iowa Farm Bureau annual meeting Dec. 4-5 in Des Moines.

What would it cost, how long would it take and would the water quality improvement methods impact Iowa's economy and food costs down the road? Those questions and more will be addressed as part of a panel discussion about Iowa's proposed nutrient reduction strategy and its role in protecting Iowa surface water and reducing the Gulf Hypoxia Zone. The discussion will take place at the 94th Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, or IFBF, annual meeting in Des Moines. The December 4-5 meeting will be held at a new location this year, the newly remodeled Veterans Memorial Auditorium. 

MORE TIME WANTED: An Iowa legislator has asked that the public be allowed an extra 30 days to review and comment on the state's new plan to reduce nutrient runoff from farm fields and pollution from sewage treatment plants entering the state's waterways. The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was introduced November 19 by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad with a 45-day public comment period, which ends January 4.

The panel will feature Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey; Dean Lemke, a natural resources engineer with the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship, or IDALS; and Matt Helmers, a professor and ag engineer at Iowa State University.

"The IFBF annual meeting education seminars always draw a crowd. They feature expert advice and guidance on issues that today's responsible farmers need to know to be sustainable as farmers and community leaders," says IFBF president Craig Hill.  "We're especially excited about the Nutrient Reduction Strategy seminar. This strategy is a science-based, detailed study which establishes a benchmark of what strategies and efforts farmers, cities and industries in Iowa can do now to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous loss."

This new plan is beginning of a coordinated effort to improve Iowa water quality

The water quality plan is the beginning of a coordinated, intensified effort to improve Iowa water quality and satisfy the 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan, which challenged Iowa and other Mississippi River basin states to find ways to reach a 45% reduction in nutrients flowing into the Gulf, which cause concerns for marine life. Representatives of IDALS, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and ISU researchers studied the issue for two years; they'll discuss the draft plans and options for conservation with farmers at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation meeting in Des Moines.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

"One thing this study will illustrate is that soil and water conservation is not a 'one size fits all' issue. There are literally thousands of types of soils, multiple terrains and many land uses in this state, and we have to continue to feed a growing world from the same amount of land. This plan needs to focus on feasible solutions that help us make the real, immediate improvements our farmers are seeking, while being fiscally responsible," says Hill.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey agrees. "We will discuss Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy which studied several science-based management practices, including cover crops, wetlands and nitrogen application timing, and looked at their impact on food production, farm profits and water quality," says Northey. "Iowa farmers know the importance of protecting the land and water and have shown increasing willingness to voluntarily implement management practices to improve Iowa's water quality and downstream waters."

Members can register for the 2012 IFBF annual meeting at their county Farm Bureau offices. For more information about the annual meeting, visit the IFBF website.

Lawmaker says more time needed to review Iowa nutrient runoff management plan

A member of the Iowa Legislature, Charles Isenhart, a Democrat and state representative from Dubuque, has asked that Iowans be allowed an extra 30 days to review and comment on the state's plan to reduce runoff and sewage pollution flowing into the Mississippi River and eventually, the Gulf of Mexico. The plan was introduced by Gov. Branstad and other state officials at a press conference on November 19 and encouraged Iowans to read the strategy online and send in their comments during a 45-day public comment period that ends January 1, 2013.

Isenhart says the 45-day period is too short to allow various groups and legislative committees to offer their input. As it stands, the deadline for comments would end before the 2013 session of the Legislature convenes January 14. Isenhart is the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

Officials of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources say no decision has been made on the request. He sent a letter to the top officials of the state natural resources and agriculture departments. Isenhart thinks a 30-day extension will give each stakeholder group an equal chance to consider the proposed strategy and comment on it. "If I were Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey, I'd want this strategy to be as widely accepted as possible," says Isenhart. "This extension would help improve acceptance."

He says a 30-day extension for comment period would help improve acceptance

The nutrient reduction strategy calls on the state to continue relying on voluntary, taxpayer subsidized projects on farms to conserve soil and help reduce fertilizer and chemical runoff. Those efforts have failed to translate into steady improvements in the Gulf waters, and nitrate levels have increased in many Iowa streams.

That pollution has contributed to the so-called "Dead Zone" or hypoxia area in the water in the Gulf of Mexico. The hypoxia is where the ocean water is lacking in enough oxygen to sustain aquatic life, including fishing and shrimping. The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy report notes that a combination of several conservation methods on farms could produce better results. The document also calls for improvements to the state's largest sewage treatment plants. Together, the work on point source and non-point source pollution would cost billions of dollars over the coming decades.

The report was drafted under orders of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which acted under legal pressure from several environmental groups. The groups accused the EPA of failing to enforce the 40-year-old U.S. Clean Water Act. To read the Iowa nutrient reduction strategy report visit the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy website.

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