Last summer, researchers from Mars Inc. and UC Davis announced the "discovery" of a variety of corn grown in Oaxaca that fixes its own nitrogen through mucus-covered aerial roots. Their study, in the journal PLOS Biology, touched off a debate—in Mexico and beyond—about the effectiveness of global policies designed to safeguard the genetic resources of indigenous communities, according to FERN's latest story, published with Yale Environment 360.
Some 1,700 U.S. communities have worrisomely high levels of nitrate in their water supplies, and two-thirds of those communities, serving more than 3 million people, have no treatment system to remove it, said an Environmental Working Group report released today.
The USDA says there is now enough room in the Conservation Reserve that, for the first time in months, it will accept applications for high-priority stewardship projects, such as filter strips, that prevent erosion and maintain water quality on fragile land. Enrollment runs from today through Aug. 17 for the practices, which require comparatively small amounts of land.
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 Natural Resources Conservation Service is on a nationwide mission to train farmers to protect the microorganisms in soil—and their relationship to crops— instead of destroying them with fertilizer and chemical sprays, says an Orion Magazine story produced with the Food and Environment Reporting Network.
"Scientists in the Chesapeake Bay have been looking at nutrient budgets for close to three decades. But to date, no state has implemented one .... Nevertheless, the idea continues to percolate," reports the Bay Journal, ahead of a Chesapeake Bay Summit to be broadcast on Maryland Public Television on Wednesday.
In Iowa, a lawsuit by the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) is forcing the state to confront the question of whether agriculture should be held accountable for nitrates that leach into urban drinking water. FERN’s Kristina Johnson recently spoke with Neil Hamilton, director of the Agricultural Law Center at Iowa’s Drake University, to learn more about the suit.
Nutrient runoff is a growing problem in many parts of the United States but researchers from the University of Rhode Island say beavers could be an ally in reducing nitrogen runoff that can lead to low-oxygen "dead zones,” says the American Society of Agronomy.
Researchers know that a comparatively small share of cropland accounts for a disproportionate amount of erosion and nutrient runoff, writes economist Marc Ribaudo in Choices, the ag econ journal.