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Iowa farmers help fight dead zone in Gulf of Mexico

Conservation practices will pay off

The Gulf of Mexico is hundreds of miles south of Iowa, but actions now being taken by the state’s farmers will, over a period of years, help to improve that body of water.

The gulf is afflicted by hypoxia, which occurs when too much nitrogen and phosphorous gets into the water. That causes algae to grow like crazy, consuming all the oxygen in the water. The result is essentially a dead zone with no aquatic life in it.

On Thursday, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig gave the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force an update on what farmers here are doing to address the problem.

He talked about the creation of wetlands that will filter tons of nitrogen from water draining off surrounding fields.

Naig stressed the investment of private sector partners such as Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and Nestle Purina, which has a pet food plant in Fort Dodge.

He also described the Iowa Systems Approach to Conservation Drainage, a five-year $10 million demonstration project funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. It includes the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and 15 other partners. Its goal is to demonstrate the connection between in-field practices that improve soil health and nutrient use efficiency and edge of field practices that further improve water quality. When completed, the project is expected to reduce nitrogen losses by 1.2 million pounds a year and phosphorus losses by 40,000 pounds a year.

Iowa’s farmers have long been stewards of the land, implementing conservation practices that will enable their families to keep farming for generations to come. Now they are becoming stewards of the Gulf waters as well.

These latest developments are part of the proud tradition of Iowa farmers protecting the environment.

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