We need to increase food production to meet population growth. This will continue to increase demands on our natural resources including water, soil and air. We can maximize efficiency, minimize impacts and reduce costs for farmers and consumers by keeping soil, fertilizers and pesticides on our cropland and out of our rivers, lakes and streams.
Fortunately, we’ve learned a lot about how to do just that. We have practices, products and services designed to keep agricultural inputs where they are needed. Everyone involved in agriculture has a role to play in improving the sustainability of our food system. This includes farmers, landowners, ag retailers and input manufacturers and distributors.
US Agriculture and Resource Use
In the US and worldwide, water and energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and waste generation are all important issue for agriculture. Water is the top resource need and concern. Agriculture is the largest single user of water, predominantly for irrigation. Agriculture’s impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste generated are smaller pieces of our nation’s impacts.
Our food system accounts for 82% of US water use, primarily for irrigation. Food production and delivery generates 18% of our greenhouse gases, half of that from agriculture. Food packaging and food waste contribute 40% of our municipal solid waste volume; agriculture is not a significant factor. (Analysis presented by Gene Kahn to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, 2008.)
Across the US, contamination of our water supplies by nitrogen, phosphorus, salt, pesticides, soil particles and introduced invasive species, and depletion of available supplies of water are concerns.
Western Lake Erie Basin
In the Great Lakes region, phosphorus pollution is a major resource management opportunity. Phosphorus enters streams, rivers and lakes from runoff from livestock and crop production, municipal wastewater treatment, septic systems and lawn fertilizers.
After improvements made in municipal wastewater treatment and in agriculture in the 1980s and 1990s, once again too much phosphorus in the Western Lake Erie Basin is feeding tremendous populations of algae. Algal “blooms” turn water green, cause odors and can make the water unhealthy for swimmers and fish. Soil particles, or sediment losses from cropland and other sources turns water brown.
Water monitoring in Western Great Lakes Basin streams and rivers shows a reduction in phosphorus in streams in the 1980s and 1990s, followed by a sharp increase over the past ten years. Phosphorus levels peak during snowmelt and rainfall events, suggesting losses from ag operations are a key source.
Sandusky River Watershed
Good progress has been made in reducing sediment and nitrogen fertilizer loss from cropland in the Sandusky, however phosphorus levels remain too high. Our Partnership’s focus in the Sandusky and in Western Lake Erie is on reducing phosphorus losses from cropland to levels that will restore clean, clear water.