An investigation by activist groups Mighty Earth and ActionAid USA challenges the notion of biodiesel as the environmentally responsible fuel of the future. Burned: Deception, Deforestation and America’s Biodiesel Policy claims that growing demand for biodiesel in the U.S. contributes to a host of problems, from deforestation in Argentina and Indonesia to algae blooms in Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone.
Iowa, which has been embroiled in controversies over agricultural runoff and water-quality issues, has announced a novel program to give farmers who plant cover crops a $5-per-acre discount on their crop insurance over the next three years, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The annual Plowprint report by the World Wildlife Fund estimates 2.5 million acres of virgin grasslands in the Great Plains were converted to cropland, or energy and urban development last year. While it's a smaller loss than the 3.7 million acres of 2015, the perennial loss of grasslands is a threat to water quality and wildlife habitat in the Plains, which stretch from Texas into the Canadian prairies.
This past spring, Louisiana-based professor Dr. Nancy Rabalais, perhaps the world’s most renowned researcher on marine dead zones, predicted that the summer of 2017 would see the largest hypoxic area in the Gulf of Mexico in recorded history. Last month she was proven right.
A variety of USDA programs will be tapped to provide $328 million in technical and financial assistance to improve water quality and restore coastal ecosystems over three years on agricultural land in the Gulf of Mexico area, said USDA. The strategy calls for conservation improvements on 3.2 million acres of high-priority land in 200 counties and parishes.
Fertilizer runoff could be reduced significantly if row crops such as corn and soybeans are replaced with perennial grasses harvested for biofuel production, say researchers from four Midwestern universities. Nitrogen runoff in the Mississippi River basin, blamed for creation of a "dead zone" each summer in the Gulf of Mexico, could drop 15-20 percent if switchgrass or miscanthus were planted on a quarter of the land now devoted to row crops, according to computer simulations.
The "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico is the largest since 2002 and more than three times bigger than the target set by the so-called Hypoxia Task Force.
Scientists forecast an average-sized "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico this year of 5,483 square miles, "or about the size of Connecticut," says the U.S. Geological Survey.
It would cost $2.7 billion a year to reduce by two-thirds the size of the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico through reductions in nutrient runoff, says a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.