POSTED: Friday, August 30, 2013 - 4:00am
UPDATED: Friday, August 30, 2013 - 4:04am
BATON ROUGE, LA — Farmers have significantly reduced the loss of sediment and nutrients from farm fields through voluntary conservation work in the lower Mississippi River Basin, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The lower Mississippi report covers cropland in Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
State and federal partners continue to implement agricultural programs that assist producers in meeting society’s needs. These programs provide voluntary, scientifically-based approaches to improve the condition and diversity of the environment.
According to the study, conservation on cropland prevents an estimated 243 million tons of sediment, 2.1 billion pounds of nitrogen and 375 million pounds of phosphorus from leaving fields each year. These figures translate to a 55 percent, 34 percent and 46 percent reduction in sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus edge-of-field losses, respectively, compared to what would have been lost if no conservation practices were in place. Similarly, conservation has resulted in an estimated 17 percent reduction in nitrogen and 22 percent reduction in phosphorus entering the Gulf of Mexico annually.
“Producers put a lot of time and money into incorporating conservation practices on their farms. Although the costs can be prohibitive, the benefits are huge,” Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M., said. “I think most farmers would agree that they would prefer to see the fertilizers and other costly inputs remain in the fields to benefit their crops as opposed to running off into the rivers and bayous.”
Many of the conservation measures that farmers implement are authorized and funded in the Farm Bill. For that reason, the USDA is calling on Congress to pass a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that would enable USDA to continue researching and supporting conservation work on farms and ranches.
“Here in Louisiana, we take conservation efforts seriously and there are several nutrient management programs to help improve water quality and address issues that could impact the soil and water resources in the state,” said Strain.
The programs also help identify best practices to help select, purchase, store and apply agricultural fertilizer and soil nutrients. State level programs like the Louisiana Master Farmer Program is considered a national model and helps determine the most efficient use of nutrients through a voluntary program. More than 2,000 Louisiana farmers are participating in this program.
”The ultimate goal is to increase agricultural profitability, manage runoff, and enhance the sustainability of natural resources. However, we have more work to do,” added Strain.
“The USDA indicates that an additional reduction of 15 percent of nitrogen and 12 percent of phosphorus can be achieved by implementing comprehensive conservation plans on all cropland in the basin and in areas that have not adequately addressed nutrient loss. This information is beneficial to our Lower Mississippi Valley Nutrient Management Initiative. This effort, spearheaded by the state departments of agriculture in the Lower Mississippi Valley states, will outline the incentive-based ag-certainty programs that our states are developing or implementing so we can share and learn from each other. The data from the report shows that we have done some great things and this information will help us focus our efforts and resources to the areas where we can have the biggest impact," said Strain.