Farm Bill Conservation Programs Support Farmers and Reduce Water Pollution
Every five years or so since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, our federal government has debated, passed and signed an increasingly complex bill that dictates food and farm policy. From food stamps to farm fields and everything in between, the contents of each successive Farm Bill are rigorously discussed and dissected. The latest Farm Bill, officially known as the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 will dictate policy from 2019-2023 and is expected to cost over $420 billion dollars.
One section that is always ripe for debate is the Farm Bill Conservation Programs. These programs offer a direct connection to the inspiration behind the original Farm Bill of the 1930s—valuable soil blowing away from fields. They are designed to offer smart solutions to help farmers reduce soil loss and negative environmental impacts through technical advice, cost sharing, and land payments. These programs help prevent complete degradation of numerous ecosystems, wildlife habitats, and watersheds. Farm Bill conservation programs offer some of the most cost-effective solutions available to the agricultural and ranching communities, while providing vital environmental protection and employment opportunities in rural America.
Agriculture and water health are entirely linked. Soil, fertilizers and other chemicals that wash away from farm fields often end up in streams, rivers, and, ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. That’s why the contents of each Farm Bill are a big deal for people who care about clean water and healthy rivers.
Encouraging Healthy Soil Helps Farmers and Rivers
The vast Mississippi River region is a major agricultural producer for the United States, as well as home to several major cities, all of which contribute the nutrients that result in hypoxia offshore in the Gulf.
Hypoxia is a condition of low oxygen levels in water and it can occur in fresh or salt water. Large nutrient loads wash into the Mississippi River and its tributaries with rain and snow melt. These nutrients wash away from farm fields and from paved areas. The nutrients enter the Gulf of Mexico as the water makes its way down River. These nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus, which are so essential for good crops, also feed large algae blooms offshore. When the algae blooms decay and sink and are eaten by zooplankton, they decompose and use up most of the oxygen in the water.
What’s left is water without enough dissolved oxygen in it to support life. Anything that can flee the area does. Everything else dies. There’s a reason the hypoxic zone is frequently referred to as The Dead Zone.
Therefore, nutrient runoff from agricultural fields isn’t just a serious financial problem for farmers; it’s also literally a life and death situation for ocean life—and the fishers, shrimpers, and communities who depend on that life for their own survival.