Report shows commitment to nutrient loss efforts

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — The Agricultural Nutrient Policy Council recently released a report highlighting farmer-led efforts to reduce nutrient loss in the Mississippi River Basin.

The report, presented at the Environmental Protection Agency Hypoxia Task Force meeting, provides federal regulators an in-depth look at efforts to improve water quality across 16 states, including Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.

Some of these efforts are being done solely by the agriculture trade associations at their own expense. Others are supported with public funding from state or federal agencies or private funding from non-governmental organizations and industry partners, while others are in close partnership with universities or municipalities.

Lauren Lurkins, Illinois Farm Bureau environmental policy director, serves as ANPC president.

“ANPC’s primary goal with this report is to bring to the attention of the federal agencies and the public the positive and focused investment in nutrient reduction practices and programming that has been — and continues to be made — by farmers, their trade associations and the associations of the service industries that work alongside farmers,” Lurkins said.

“American agriculture is deeply committed to the success of the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy process in the Mississippi River Basin and very much wants to work with our federal and state partners and stakeholders to sustain this amount of effort,” the report noted.

Illinois Key Findings

The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy calls for 45% reduction in both total phosphorus and total nitrogen to the Gulf of Mexico. This includes interim milestones of 15% for total nitrogen and 25% for total phosphorus by 2025.

NLRS implementation is supported by a mixture of federal and state level public funds and private funds. USDA conservation program funding provides the bulk of the public funds.

State level funding also comes from the Partners for Conservation Program, wherein the state Department of Agriculture, with assistance from Soil and Water Conservation Districts, administer a cost-share program.

State-level funding also is provided at the watershed level through Illinois EPA’s Section 319 program. Private investment ranges from approximately $4.5 million to $7 million annually, not including private money spent by farmers on the farm scale.

Efforts in the Prairie State are spearheaded by the Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council; Illinois Corn Growers Association/Illinois Soybean Association’s Precision Conservation Management program; Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association’s Keep it 4R Crop; Cover Crop Premium Discount through Department of Agriculture; Sustainable Ag Partnership; and Illinois Farm Bureau’s Nutrient Stewardship Grant Program.

According to the SPAtially Referenced Regression On Watershed attributes tool, the 2012 SPARROW mapper, Illinois delivers 17% of the agriculture nitrogen and 12% of agriculture phosphorus to the Gulf of Mexico.

Indiana Key Findings

The Indiana State Nutrient Reduction Strategy has narrative water quality standards that prohibit the discharge of substances that will create or contribute to the growth of aquatic plants or algae to such degree as to create a nuisance, be unsightly or otherwise impair the designated uses. The state is using nutrient benchmarks to comply with this narrative criterion that includes a total phosphorus benchmark of 0.3 milligrams per liter.

The Clean Water Indiana program supports local match requirements for grant programs and provides grants for conservation programs.

Practices that improve soil health are promoted statewide. Overall improvements in soil health are encouraged with specific practices to result in reductions in nutrient and sediment loading to streams and rivers.

Annual spring tillage surveys are conducted to evaluate conservation programs throughout the state. A recent survey indicated approximately 1 million acres of cover crops annually.

These ongoing efforts are led by various partnerships including the Indiana Agriculture Alliance, Indiana Conservation Partnership and Agribusiness Council of Indiana.

The Agribusiness Council of Indiana, a member of IANA, launched its statewide 4R Certification Program for nutrient service providers in 2020.

According to the 2012 SPARROW mapper, Indiana delivers 14% of the agricultural nitrogen and 7% of the agricultural phosphorus to the Gulf of Mexico.

Iowa Key Findings

The Iowa Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy sets a goal of reducing statewide inputs of both nitrogen and phosphorus by 45%. Non-point source target load reductions are 41% for total nitrogen and 29% for total phosphorus.

Initial phosphorus control was largely funded by farmers and landowners. In recent years funding from public-private funders, Senate File 512 and the state revolving loan fund.

Iowa farmers are taking steps to improve conservation practices on their land to help meet INRS goals. Outreach efforts by partner agencies have increased throughout the state.

The current in-field practices to reduce phosphorus loss are focused on retaining sediment on the fields. These practices are primarily conservation tillage, terraces, pond dams and sediment basins.

Iowa agriculture has achieved at least a 22% reduction in total phosphorus. The most effective practices to reduce nitrogen loss have yet to be determined.

Cover cropping is the only on-field practice currently promoted to address nitrogen. It is anticipated that the practices currently in place achieve a 10% to 15% reduction in nitrogen loss.

Organizations and initiatives working toward implementing practices include the Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council; the Iowa Agricultural Water Alliance formed by Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and Iowa Pork Producers Association; and Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance.

According to the 2012 SPARROW mapper, Iowa delivers 19% of the agricultural nitrogen and 13% of the agricultural phosphorus to the Gulf of Mexico.

Tom Doran

Tom Doran

Field Editor