Many factors contribute to the excess phosphorous that stimulates algal systems in bodies of water such as Lake Erie. Sources of excess phosphorous include urban stormwater, factories, sewers, household wastes and lawn fertilizer, and in some areas runoff from fertilizers or manure applied to fields.
Fortunately, many farmers are already doing their part to improve water. For example, cover crops can keep phosphorus, nitrogen and other nutrients from escaping fields and entering waterways. The U.S. acreage planted to cover crops is currently increasing at a rate of 31 percent per year, according to surveys funded by the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and conducted by the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC). Wider adoption could prove helpful in the Great Lakes area by reducing the loss of soil and nutrients from crop land.
Cover crops are appealing to more and more farmers because they can capture excess nutrients without negatively impacting yield or profit. “Average yields for corn and soybeans following cover crops increased by 9 to 11 percent in 2012 and 3 to 4 percent in 2013,” says Rob Myers, North Central SARE’s Director of Professional Development.
SARE’s Cover Crop Innovators video series features 10 short profiles of innovative Midwestern farmers who have successfully added cover crops to their cash grain operations. Learn more.