Summer should be a time for fishing, boating and swimming with family on our nation’s lakes. Yet instead of fresh clear waters, many users are encountering mats of thick blue-green harmful algal blooms (HABs) – aka toxic algae.
A new report by the National Wildlife Foundation and Resource media highlights the toxic algae blooms that are fouling waters nationwide, including in Iowa. The authors have also launched an interactive map tracking reports of harmful algae blooms from across the country at toxicalgaenews.com.
In addition to highlighting the health and economic impacts of harmful algal blooms, the report also discusses solutions for this widespread problem. It highlights Iowa farmer Mark Peterson who is making extensive use of cover crops on his farm to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in local waters.
Here’s Mark’s story, reprinted with permission of the report’s authors:
“One of the most effective things I do is use cover crops to soak up nutrients that move with any rainfall,” he says. “I aerial seed cereal rye before harvest so that it is already sprouted and growing by the time harvest is over. That way there is always something growing in the field which helps protect the soil and scavenge nutrients. This also will help build up organic matter over time.
“I’m not alone in this practice – more and more farmers are shifting to a spring fertilizer application, along with planting cover crops. Why? It’s good for the farm. We like to say, ‘Don’t farm naked!’ Cover crops prevent the land from staying bare over the wintertime. They prevent soil erosion, keep the nutrients in the soil and improve soil health.
“It is time for the government to put its money where its mouth is and provide funding for conservation education that will improve soil and water quality. We should also link conservation compliance to crop insurance. Farmers are getting a big subsidy on our crop insurance, and in exchange we must take care of our soil and water not only for ourselves, but for the future generations. Melanie and I have five sons and two grandchildren—so far. I want to leave, for them, the farm and the environment in even better shape than what we started with.”
By the way, the great “Don’t Farm Naked” t-shirt Mark is wearing comes from Practical Farmers of Iowa, a Council member organization.