Every summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measures and releases information about the size of the hypoxia zone* in the Gulf of Mexico. Because of the drought in 2012, because all the nutrients that were applied went unused as the crops failed to grow, and because of the massive rainfall some of the Midwest experienced this spring, NOAA predicted the zone to be at least 20 percent larger in 2013.
We were all surprised to hear that the zone is not nearly that large. In fact, the zone is very nearly the average size.
This means that although some would like to believe that we have nutrient runoff and the causes of hypoxia zones down to an exact science, the fact that we can’t accurately predict a significant increase or decrease means that there’s a lot we still don’t know.
That is exactly why the Council on Best Management Practices, of which Illinois Corn and several agricultural companies and associations are members, is working to build more science and more data regarding hypoxia and nutrient runoff. Very little scientific data about agriculture’s contribution to the problem exists.
Plan to tune in every Tuesday this month on Corn Corps as we explore more about the water quality issues facing Illinois farmers and how farmers really are trying their best to manage and solve the problems facing those of us that drink water.
*Hypoxia zones are “dead zones” which are devoid of life. This occurs because nutrients make their way into the water system, encourage the increasing growth of small microorganisms, and then deoxygenate the water as all these small organisms die and decompose. As large sections of water become oxygen-free, fish and other wildlife can’t live causing fish die-offs and serious impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries.
Many environmentalists would like to believe that agriculture is a substantial contributor to nutrient runoff and hypoxia zones. However, to date, no solid research has been done on what agriculture’s contribution to this problem really is. If agriculture has a significant impact, farmers are already poised to change their practices and do their best to minimize runoff. If other industries are more at fault than currently assumed, everyone must step up to the plate to minimize nutrient runoff problems.