A recent study by the Environmental Working Group showed that between 2003 and 2017, over half of Illinois’ 217 municipal water supplies saw an average 43 percent increase in nitrates, which have been shown to cause birth defects, thyroid disease, bladder cancer, and some forms of leukemia.
Like the Gulf’s dead zone, the biggest culprits are farm runoff carrying depleted soils containing farm fertilizers into our surface and ground waters. Not only is this harmful to our oceans and our health, such runoff represents a lot of wasted money. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Some farmers are implementing soil health practices which can address this, including no-till planting, cover crops, and more diverse crops. Such strategies can improve soil organic matter necessary for plants while reducing runoff and nitrates in our waters. These practices can reduce the farmer’s costs by less fertilizer use and fewer trips across the field. When such practices are combined with grassy waterways and buffer strips, farming can actually improve the land.
Unfortunately, not enough farmers are employing these practices. The Illinois Department of Agriculture reported in 2017 that only three percent of farmers were using cover crops. In 2018 the average soil loss per acre on conventionally-tilled Illinois farmland was between 1.3 to 28 tons annually. It’s easy to understand how such loss is unsustainable.
August 11, 2020 at 06:39AM