USDA to grant farmers $41 million for nutrient conservation

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, March 28, 2016 - USDA has announced it will invest $41 million in conservation funding into a three-year initiative to improve water quality in the Western Lake Erie Basin.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service will grant the funds to producers in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana who implement nutrient management practices on their farms to reduce runoff into waterways. Today's announcement is in addition to $36 million in funding NRCS made available for basin water quality projects over the past two years.

“The area's farmers and ranchers have already made great strides in helping to reduce runoff, and with this new investment they will be able to do even more,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a release. “Farmers and landowners will be able to add conservation measures to about 870,000 acres in this critical watershed, effectively doubling the acres of conservation treatment that can be accomplished in the three years.”

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NRCS also released a report on Monday detailing the effects of NRCS-assisted voluntary conservation on nutrient and sediment loss from farms in the basin from 2003-2006 and in 2012. The Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) report found that these programs helped farmers reduce phosphorus runoff by more than 640,000 pounds each year and sediment loss by over 260,000 tons between 2003 and 2006.

“Throughout the basin, comprehensive field-scale conservation planning and conservation systems are needed to accommodate different treatment needs while maintaining productivity,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “While voluntary conservation is making a difference in the basin, the CEAP evaluation tells us that there are still gains that can be made through an emphasis on practices like precision agriculture.”

About a month ago, the U.S. and Canada agreed to develop plans that would reduce the amount of phosphorus pollution entering Lake Erie by 40 percent, based on 2008 loading levels.


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Scientists say toxic algal blooms are more common, particularly in the Western Lake Erie Basin, because of phosphorus pollution flowing into the lake from farms, sewage treatment plants and stormwater drains.

The algae create low oxygen “dead zones” in the water - which kill aquatic creatures that require oxygen - and can become toxic, like in 2011, when microcystin in Lake Erie rendered 400,000 residents around Toledo, Ohio, without clean drinking water for days. Last summer, the lake saw the largest bloom recorded during this century.

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