A coalition of environmental groups has sued the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.  Essentially, they contend that the sewer system needs upgrading to prevent further water quality issues, as Chicago is the single largest contributor of phosphorus to the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

You can read more about that story here.

Municipalities are the largest source of phosphorus run off/contamination in Illinois’ river system, but agriculture has to own the abundance of Nitrogen also making its way to the Gulf.  Phosphorus and nitrogen are both problems contributing to the hypoxia zone and agriculture is ready to educate our farmers and address the situation head on.

Keep It for the Crop 2025 (KIC 2025) is a new effort that is going to do just that.  But first, keep reading for a basic science lesson and a little background on the issue.

Illinois is a state once covered in prairie grasses that left behind a rich, black soil.  Corn is also a prairie grass; the fact that the crop is historically suited for Illinois soils is the reason corn is so successfully grown in our state.  As the organic matter in our rich soils mineralizes, nitrogen is released.  This is the same nitrogen that the lush prairie grasses needed – and the same nitrogen that corn needs to grow so abundantly.

High levels of nitrogen in Illinois soils is a historical fact.  Our soil make up contains higher levels of nitrogen that others.  The problem has come as farmers tiled or drained their fields over time, allowing for that nitrogen to make a quick trip into the streams and river system that was never present before.

The other problem is that farmers must apply additional nitrogen to grow the best crops that will feed the most people.  Luckily, we’ve gotten better at this science as Global Positions System (GPS) has allowed us to apply nitrogen only in the exact spot that we will come back and plant the corn seeds.  Our nitrogen application rate per bushel of corn has dropped 30 percent since 1980 and Illinois farmers are making fabulous progress.But there is still progress to be made.

The KIC 2025 (link) is agriculture’s effort to keep driving farmers to use best management practices.  Through farmer education, research to tell us what practices work best to manage nitrogen loss, and continued technology, corn farmers are going to continue making incredible strides to address nitrogen runoff while growing record crops.

Rodney M Weinzierl
ICGA/ICMB Exec Director

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