In Minnesota, study finds drinking water tainted with nitrates

Hundreds of thousands of Minnesota residents are drinking water contaminated with elevated levels of nitrate, according to a new analysis from the Environmental Working Group. The state is rolling out new rules to regulate nitrogen fertilizer application and protect groundwater, but advocates say they may not go far enough to keep residents safe.

Illegal pot farms wreak havoc on national forests

Mexican drug cartels, operating illegal marijuana farms on public lands, are polluting forests and saddling the federal government with millions of dollars in clean-up costs. Trespass marijuana farms are thought to number in the hundreds of thousands in California alone. The sites “wreak havoc on the land, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of pounds of garbage, leaching caustic chemicals, polluting watersheds, and damaging the habitat of endangered and at-risk species,” reports High Country News.

Cuba’s first generation of organic farmers wants to feed the island

In Cuba, a movement of rural, organic farms is trying to both feed the island's people and heal its soil, writes Roger Atwood in FERN’s new story with The Guardian. In recent years, Cuba has been romanticized as an island full of urban farms, but in reality the government imports 60-80 percent of the nation's food and farmers make abundant use of agro-industrial chemicals and synthetic fertilizers on their farms. Yet, an increasing number of growers are realizing the virtues of organic.

‘Dead zone’ is largest ever recorded, covers one-seventh of Gulf of Mexico

Marine scientists estimate the low-oxygen "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico covers a record 8,776 square miles, or one-seventh of the basin. "This large dead zone size shows that nutrient pollution, primarily from agriculture and developed land runoff in the Mississippi River watershed, is continuing to affect the nation’s coastal resources and habitats in the Gulf," said NOAA.

States sue EPA over chemical spill rule

The attorneys general of 11 states have sued the EPA for delaying implementation of a chemical-spill rule at industrial sites, including fertilizer plants, by two years. “The set of regulations, called the Chemical Accident Safety Rule, would require industrial facilities to take new steps to prevent accidents and also to conduct more robust examinations of the causes of accidents that do occur,” says Reuters.

Biggest farm equipment maker also is a large farm lender

"Nothing runs like a Deere," according to an old tagline for the world's largest farm equipment maker, and nothing lends like a Deere, either, says the Wall Street Journal. The company, which lends billions of dollars to farmers who buy its equipment, "is providing more short-term credit for crop supplies such as seeds, chemicals and fertilizer, making it the No. 5 agricultural lender."

Forecast: A ‘dead zone’ the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico

Heavy rainfall in May washed the equivalent of an estimated 2,800 rail cars of nitrogen fertilizer down the Mississippi River and will create the third-largest fish-killing "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico in 32 years of monitoring, say federal scientists. They forecast a low-oxygen dead zone of 8,185 square miles, about the size of New Jersey.

Plant breeders aim for crops that waste less fertilizer

The world's most widely grown crop, wheat, could become "a super nitrogen-efficient crop" if plant researchers succeed in cross-breeding a trait called biological nitrification inhibition into the staple grain, says the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). Wheat plants use about 30 percent of nitrogen fertilizer applied to fields at present, but if the trait can be introduced into the plants they will become more efficient users and suppress loss of nitrogen from the soil.

Canada’s carbon tax could take a toll on farms

Canada’s new tax on carbon, set to start at C$10 in 2018 and reach C$50 by 2022, could hurt the country’s farmers and fertilizer companies, says Reuters. Canada is in one of the world’s biggest grain-producers. But at C$50, the tax “would raise fertilizer prices by C$2 per acre for Canadian farmers, and some experts peg the total farm cost at C$6 an acre, according to the CIBC bank.”