Louisiana ag braces for new hypoxia challenge

Environmental activists have renewed their push to limit fertilizer runoff into rivers, streams and water bodies in the Mississippi River Basin. They’ve chosen Louisiana agriculture as a convenient whipping boy.

The primary instigator is a fellow named Matt Rota, of the Gulf Restoration Network, which has filed suit against the EPA to implement anti-pollution standards for the entire Mississippi River Basin.

Rota says efforts to date have failed to produce what his group and others are advocating, a 45-percent reduction in nutrient loading from agriculture, which is supposed to result in a one-third reduction in the Gulf of Mexico’s hypoxic zone.

Carrie Castille, deputy assistant commissioner for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, recently told farmers attending the Louisiana Cotton and Grain Association annual meeting that a 45 percent reduction is impractical, if not impossible.

“Studies indicate that if every producer in the Mississippi River Basin implemented every best management practice (BMP) for nutrients on every acre, there would only be a 15-percent reduction in loads,” Castille said.

This apparently is of little concern to Rota. But there’s more.

“Louisiana has a tendency to defend industry and doesn’t want to put any more regulations on them than they have to,” Rota said. “We feel like Louisiana needs to cry out and say, ‘We need Iowa, Illinois and Missouri to really do their part to not pollute the water that flows into the Gulf of Mexico.’ To do that, we’re really focusing on Louisiana to be that voice.”

So there you have it – environmentalists not only want to tell Louisiana farmers how to conduct business, but how to think as well.

There are some dangerous folks out there, folks.

Meanwhile, LDAF has created a statewide nutrient management task force to address the issue. It is also working with EPA on a comprehensive, statewide nutrient management strategy, which could mean tougher standards coming down the pike once reliable data has been gathered.

 “We’re looking at homeowners, point sources, non-point sources and any source of nutrient loading into the Mississippi River Basin,” Castille said.

Rogers Leonard, associate vice chancellor of research at the LSU AgCenter, fears that unless the ag industry is proactive, regulators could seek to limit fertilizer application rates. “If we don’t have input in the development of a statewide plan, somebody else is going to do it for us. How many of us can produce the 300-bushel corn we’re going to need to feed the world by 2025 on 100 pounds of nitrogen. That’s what we’re looking at. We’re going to see the same thing in potassium and phosphorus as well.”

Castille noted that Louisiana state laws already provide a clear path of stewardship for Louisiana farmers. “For example if you complete every phase of the Master Farmer program, you are presumed to be in compliance with the state’s water conservation standards. That has to stand for something.”

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