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Alternative farming cleans up water

MADISON, WI, July 19, 2007 -- Although the addition of nutrients to soil helps to maximize crop production, fertilizer can leach nutrients, polluting the water supply. A recent study by researchers at the University of Minnesota shows alternative cropping practices may help to protect the environment by reducing high nitrate levels in surface and ground water caused by conventional fertilizer use. The team of scientists reports their findings in the July-August 2007 issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality.

Nitrogen is one of the most important elements required in agricultural systems for plant and animal production. While treatment with the correct amount of nitrogen-based fertilizer optimizes crop yield and minimizes environmental damage, too much nitrogen can lead to nitrate loss.

Nitrate, a mobile form of nitrogen, escapes via water that percolates through soils. In regions where subsurface drainage is used to promote crop growth, high levels of nitrates are transported to downstream waters. Nitrate contamination of water can contribute to waters becoming hypoxic and stress aquatic life living downstream.

The challenge facing industry, farmers, agricultural advisors, and others concerned about the environment is to develop efficient cropping systems that maintain economical production levels while minimizing surface and ground water degradation, said Jeff Strock, lead author of the study.

In search of ways to reduce agricultural pollution, Strock and others measured tile drainage and nitrate losses under conventional and alternative cropping systems over a three-year period in southwest Minnesota. This study was funded by the USDA-CSREES-National Integrated Water Quality Program.

Researchers categorized conventional farming practices as corn-soybean rotations with inorganic fertilizer application and pesticide usage. Alternative farming practices included organic management practices that incorporated
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Contact: Sara Uttech
suttech@agronomy.org
608-268-4948
American Society of Agronomy
19-Jul-2007


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