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Gulf Dead Zone "Buck Stops Here" – on Missouri Farms



March 26, 2012

ST. LOUIS - Missourians may not realize it, but some farming practices in the state are threatening aquatic life in the Gulf of Mexico, where a growing area of pollution is causing concern among environmentalists. Scientists say that an area of the Gulf of some 7000 square miles, larger than the state of Connecticut, is so polluted that aquatic life there is dying.

Lorin Crandall, clean water program director with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, says the pollution starts right here on Missouri farms.

"Absolutely. We have close to sole responsibility for it. I mean, it's the pollution from the Midwest that is primarily causing the dead zone."

Crandall says nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from farms flows into the Mississippi River, causing excessive growth of algae which is killing marine life. Agricultural runoff is exempt from Clean Water Act regulations, so farmers are being asked to take responsibility by adopting sustainable practices, like planting cover crops to control erosion.

Crandall, the grandson of a farmer, says this is not about blaming farmers or being anti-agriculture. He says actions such as planting cover crops to prevent erosion and using GPS technology to apply nutrients only to areas that need it, can really help.

"Seeing some of these best management practices get implemented would be some really good steps. You know, in a lot of these big fights, there's some low-hanging fruit to be had that isn't even hanging on a contentious branch."

He says it's not just farmers who can help reduce the dead zone. Even people who live in cities can make a difference, by creating a market for food that is produced sustainably.

"How about learning about where your stuff comes from? How about getting on the Internet and saying 'You know what? I want to learn about these cattle operations, where this beef is coming from in my area.'"

Crandall says farming is an evolving science that's changed a lot in the last 25 years, and farmers, consumers, and regulators all need to get involved.

This month, environmental groups have filed a lawsuit to force the EPA to take action on limiting fertilizer runoff.

More information is at www.moenviron.org.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - MO