Letter to the editor

Eric Andersen

Water quality is an extremely complex problem and cannot be solved by simply assigning the blame onto farmers and ag supply companies for all of the problems we are facing today.
Water quality can be improved by the use of cover crops, reduced tillage, and improvements in fertilizer rates and methods of application. Farmers and agriculture have made tremendous strides over the past several decades in their farming methods and their impact on our soils and on water quality. There are many more acres today that utilize conservation tillage or no-till, cover crops, more efficient applications of fertilizers, buffer strips and CRP. There is still progress to be made and we will continue to make improvements.
But, water quality issues will never be totally solved through adapting farming practices alone. The nitrogen cycle is an open cycle, subject to enormous impacts from the environment. Even the most dedicated efforts to using better methods will still only be as effective as Mother Nature will allow. Farmers today are under intense economic pressure to reduce input costs. Over applying or inefficient methods of fertilization application does not make economic sense. Figuring out how to manage that cycle and the impacts from the environment so that only the exact correct amount of fertilizer is applied every time and that 100% of that fertilizer is used by the crop every time seems to be a near impossible task.
In our area, many of the cover crops that were planted in the fall of 2016 developed massive, deep root growth and had very good top growth, which is very beneficial for soil health and nitrate capture. However, many of the cover crops that were planted in the fall of 2017 have shallow almost non-existent root growth, and minimal or no top growth. In both years, the same system with the same focus was used, but far different levels of effectiveness due to different environmental conditions.
Agriculture must continue to focus on improving soil health and water quality for the benefit of the greater good and for our own economic benefit. But to think that agriculture alone will ever be able to totally fix the problem is far from realistic due to factors beyond our control. And purposely limiting agronomic production is not a desirable or realistic answer for solving any of the problems facing agriculture.
Let’s all work together to make progress on this. The general public expects agriculture to make improvements on this, and they should expect that, but they also must have realistic expectations as to the difficulty of ever totally solving all of the problems they see.
Eric Andersen,
Family Farmer

The Grundy Register

601 G. Avenue - P.O. Box 245
Grundy Center, IA 50638
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