Monday, July 03, 2017

Innovative crop rotation can save money and help the environment, Iowa researchers find

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration enhanced image shows Mississippi
River watershed and the "dead zone" from fertilizer runoff in the Gulf of Mexico.
This year's "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by fertilizer runoff from farms in the Mississippi-Missouri-Ohio River watershed, is forecast to be the third largest ever. An editorial in The Des Moines Register shows how farmers in Iowa and other states can mitigate the problem.

Iowa farmers typically plant a field in corn one year and soybeans the next. Research at Iowa State University has studied "a three-year system that adds a cool-season small grain (such as oats) with a cover crop of red clover that acts as a 'green manure,' and a four-year system that includes a small grain (again, oats) with a green manure of alfalfa, followed by a second year of alfalfa for harvest," says the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The researchers have found that the longer rotations enhanced yields and profits while reducing pesticide use and pollution."

As an example, the Register cites Iowa farmer Seth Watkins, who said at the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation's "Ocean Week" in Washington, D.C. last month, "My job as farmer is not to produce; my job is to care for the land. And when I do this properly, this provides for all of us." The Register says governments must provide better incentives to farmers who want to follow in his footsteps. "Federal farm policy got us into the two-crop system, and it can help get us out," the newspaper says. "Politicians and ag leaders claim that Iowa farmers are making progress in addressing water pollution, but too much evidence shows it’s shamefully inadequate."

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