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Practices That Can Help Reduce Phosphorus Loss From The Field

By Christina Curell
Water quality has always been a priority for agriculture, but in recent years, those concerns have escalated because of problems in the Western Lake Erie Basin and the Saginaw Bay. Many have pointed at farming as the primary cause. Michigan farmers are not alone in this struggle. Farmers in Iowa, specifically those that farm in watersheds in and near Des Moines, have been at the forefront of a legal battle that still could change current farming practices. Michiganders can learn a lot from our counterparts in Iowa and other states throughout the country.
The state of Iowa instituted a nutrient reduction strategy to combat hypoxia levels in the Gulf of Mexico that flowed through the Mississippi River. A voluntary effort was put together to reduce nutrient flow off of farm fields. Three areas were addressed: Management practices, land use practice, and edge-of-field practices. More information on these three practices can be found in the Michigan State University Extension article reducing nutrient loss article.
Phosphorus runoff is of prominent concern for farmers. To address phosphorus loading and to reduce field levels, common agricultural practices should be implemented. A chart from Iowa State University Extension, Reducing nutrient loss: Science shows what works highlights those practices that have a large potential for phosphorus load reduction. To measure economic impact corn yields were evaluated, both increase and decrease. Unfortunately if a farmer uses more than one of these practices, the reduction percentage is not cumulative, i.e. each practice reduction is stand alone. Another chart worth checking out details the impact of various phosphorous management practices.
Dr. Tim Harrigan of Michigan State University Biosystem and Agriculture Engineering has done extensive research on ways that Michigan producers can mitigating adverse farming systems impacts on the environment and creating sustainable agroecosystems. His research includes the development of an innovative process that combines low-disturbance tillage, the seeding of forage and cover crops and manure land application in one sustainable operation. 

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