Response to Government Studies of the Hypoxic Zone in the Gulf of Mexico

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The CENR (Committee on Environmental and Natural Resources) released a report last year to "identify and evaluate approaches for solving the problem of the hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico." It concluded that a number of practices were needed to effecively deal with hypoxia: 1) more efficient farming usage of nitrogen from fertilizer and manure; 2) creation and restoration of wetlands between farmlands and waterways; 3) implementation of nitrogen controls on domestic wastewater treatment plants; 4) diversion of floodwater to backwaters of the Mississippi River delta and coastal wetlands. The requested modifications of on-farm practices included a 20% reduction in fertilizer application, optimal timing of fertilizer application, use of alternative crops (perennials), spacing of subsurface drains further apart, and better livestock manure mangament. Other solutions were addressed, but the most commonly referred to solution was that of restricting farmers' practices. It was cited as the most economically ideal way of reducing the hypoxia problem in the Gulf.

Farmers naturally did not take well to this report. A period of ninety days was given to respond to the finding of the reports and the general consensus of the agriculatural world was that they had been given the shaft. After restrictions from the Farm Bills in the early nineties, farmers had already lost land to restorations and to greater decreases in the amount of soil erosion. "Farmers have an economic self-interest in acheiving this goal: nutrient losses from fields represent lost production and lost money to farmers (" The biggest problem the farmers had with the CENR report was it's one-size-fits-all approach to fertilizer restrictions, and farmers felt like they didn't receive any warning nor was their opinion voiced about having to change their farming practies. The report left itself wide open to attack with statements like "there is not yet a complete understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological processes that influence water quality response in the northern Gulf of Mexico (Taylor 1999)." Also its failure to recognize the positives of agriculture brought on a very reactionary response from the farmers. There was a wide spread call to make the process more open and to allow more time for discussion and response from the public. Farmers didn't realize there was a problem until relatively recently. Demanding a sudden and drastic change in their farming practices has them greatly on guard.

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