Efforts to reduce nutrient loss into waterways gains momentum


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(The Center Square) – In an effort to reduce farm fertilizers from running off into waterways, a network of organizational stakeholders is continuing efforts to reduce nutrient loss.

The basic goal of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy is to cut nutrient loads, like nitrogen and phosphorus, almost in half and improve waterways in Illinois all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department of Agriculture recently released the 2021 Biennial Report on the implementation of the 2015 Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS).

The report showed nitrogen levels were up 13% and phosphorus levels up by 35%. Lauren Lurkins, Illinois Farm Director of environmental policy, said the initiative is going to take some time, but she foresees success.

“The fact that we have not only individuals making changes on their farms and waster water treatment plants, but also organizations and our state supporting it for the long haul,” Lurkins said.

The Illinois Farm Bureau said it has invested $2.3 million since 2015 to implement the NLRS. That includes a focus on education and outreach, supporting research, and supporting implementation.

Between 2019 and 2020, agriculture sector partners reported spending nearly $27 million implementing the strategy, outside of state and federal costs-share program funds.

Lurkins said there are several ways to help reduce farm runoff.

“Things that are in the field, like changing up your nitrogen or phosphorus rates or timing of application, use cover crops within a corn or soybean rotation, and then we are also look at the edge of fields, thinking about our waterways like engineered structured practices to treat water before it leaves a field,” Lurkins said.

Responses to a NLRS survey, 43% of farmers reported being somewhat to very knowledgeable about the strategy, and 66% of farmers reported being somewhat to very knowledgeable about cover crops.

Lurkins said they are making progress despite challenges, including extreme flooding in 2019 and the global pandemic in 2020.


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