Iowa farmer says effectiveness of nutrient management plans is unverifiable

An Iowa farmer says there’s no verifiable progress that nutrient management strategies are working.

Francis Thicke owns and operates an 80-cow, grass-based, organic dairy near Fairfield, Iowa along with his wife Susan.  He told an EPA and Army Corps of Engineers WOTUS hearing that 2/3rds of his state’s land is covered in corn and soybeans every year, and Iowa’s corn and soybean acres are “inherently leaky” when it comes to nitrogen and phosphorus. “It’s a flawed system for water quality because corn and soybeans only have live roots in the soil for about five months of the year, so for most of the year, there are no live roots in the soil.”

Thicke says heavy rains wash nutrients into the drain tile and downstream.

He says an Iowa State study shows that 93% of the nitrogen and 79% of the phosphorus entering the water comes from agriculture, and more farmers need to adopt conservation practices, “Like cover crops, more diversity of crops that can solve the problem on the landscape. Also, you have to fix it off on the end of the field, edge of field, and I call those conservation diapers, whether it’s some kind of a bioreactor or some kind of a buffer strip.”

Thicke is a former USDA employee. He told the hearing agriculture contributes a lot of pollution but is pretty much exempt and there isn’t any political will to do anything about it. He calls recent water quality initiatives a “merry-go-round” and says without the political will to regulate agriculture, “we’re not going to get very far.”

The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers is hosting ten regional hearings on the implementation of the latest Waters of the U.S. rule.  The public comment period for the new rule ended on February 7th and the agencies are still reviewing the comments they received.

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