Ocean Frontiers: Iowa Farmers & Gulf of Mexico

What does Iowa have to do with the Gulf of Mexico or the ocean anyway?

Well, about 200 million gallons every minute. Iowa is one of thirty-one states whose waters flow into the Gulf of Mexico, via the Mississippi River. These waters carry rain and soil, as well as the many effluents of humanity, from chemical plants in Baton Rouge, to fertilized lawns in suburban Memphis, to pig farms and cornfields in the Upper Midwest. Once these nutrients reach the Gulf, they create immense blooms of algae, whose decaying masses deplete the ocean water of oxygen—every year creating a dead zone the size of Massachusetts—a Hypoxic Zone that suffocates nearly everything in its path.

And after decades of such burden, the once fertile Gulf has begun to falter, its wetlands vanishing by the minute, its waters rendered dead from too many contaminants flowing from upstream. Realizing that one state alone cannot solve all of the Gulfs’ problems, the Governors of the five Gulf States formed the Gulf of Mexico Alliance – a partnership that now extends into the Mississippi River basin.

A cadre of Iowa farmers are now changing their agricultural practices to reduce their impact on the Gulf of Mexico. Their efforts include reducing the amount of fertilizer they use, constructing wetlands to filter water before it heads downstream, and planting strips of native tallgrass prairie to prevent runoff. Iowa’s goal is to reduce their nitrogen runoff by 45%.

Fewer tons of fertilizer, more acres of wetlands and prairies– all are lightening Iowa’s agricultural burden on the Gulf of Mexico without burdening the returns of Iowa’s farmers.

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