We have all heard about the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico – and how some of that problem has been blamed on Corn Belt agriculture. Another environmental issue with less widespread publicity is the algae blooms in Lake Erie, which are at least partially related to agriculture in the surrounding watershed.
Right now you might be asking yourself what some tech guy is doing writing about environmental issues. Let me explain.
The goals for all in this debate are to balance the need for food production with protection of our natural resources. Both of these goals are critical to the future of our country. Obviously we need affordable food, but at what price to nature? Water and related resources, in my opinion, will quickly become the next oil industry and will likely end up being just as monetarily valuable.
The Ag industry cannot stick our collective heads in the sand and claim that our actions do not have any effect on water and its overall quality. As we have all been taught, nitrogen is water soluble and can be carried where ever water takes it. It is primarily nitrogen-loading in the Mississippi that is to blame for the dead zone in the Gulf.
Similarly, dissolved reactive phosphorous (get to know this term) is the main culprit for the algae bloom in Lake Erie. I was always taught that when phosphorus comes in contact with the charged soil colloid that it becomes tightly bound and does not easily detach. This teaching may need to be re-thought as I have learned from some recent meetings. It turns out phosphorus loading in Lake Erie is on the rise due to dissolved reactive phosphorous. This is especially alarming because these numbers were collectively falling from the '70s until the mid '90s. They have been rising since.
How do you produce affordable food that returns maximum profit? By utilizing technology with best management practices. There are several fixed and variable costs in your business, but one of the easiest in your direct control is input costs. Specifically, you can focus on input efficiency. Are you getting the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to nitrogen and phosphorus? Start by asking yourself, how am I making decisions on how much of these inputs to apply?
It is becoming more and more obvious that agriculture is not the only contributor to the nutrient loading in our water bodies. That said, there is no reason you should not leverage the tools you have on your farm and claim your dedication to the environment. And with most precision equipment you now have the ability to document that dedication in writing.
Look for part two of this blog, where we get into some of the specifics of how you can accomplish this.