Helping Farmers Address the Problem of Hypoxia in Our Coastal Waters

Our nation’s coastal waters are vital resources to the local economies along their shores; they contain habitats rich with life and are welcomed destinations for many a traveler.  But a recent report released by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy warns of a bleak future for these areas and the delicate ecosystems they support.  The reason: low-oxygen “dead zones.”

The condition, known as hypoxia, has serious repercussions for marine ecosystems. Nearly half of the 647 waterways in the study showed dead zones, with the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay Area and coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest topping the list.  These unnaturally low levels of oxygen are largely due to human activities, including runoff from fertilizers used in agricultural production.

Since 1998, American Farmland Trust has been working together with the agricultural community through our BMP Challenge to help farmers adopt conservation practices in sensitive watersheds.  The program seeks to help farmers enhance their nutrient management practices and reduce fertilizer run-off that can impair local and regional water quality.  With more than 9,200 acres in seven Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states enrolled, the BMP Challenge has effectively engaged farmers to test and adopt innovative approaches and spur improvements to policies and programs that support farmers’ adoption of environmentally sound practices.

Thanks to initiatives like the BMP Challenge, progress in reducing nutrient runoff and mitigating the impact on regional waters is being realized.  In one example, American Farmland Trust is working with farmers in coastal states committed to the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement to adopt conservation practices in a region that has seen increases in hypoxia for more than 30 years.  Our goal is to continue to scale up the BMP challenge across the nation, matching it with our work on ecosystem services markets to create a future where farmers are an active part of securing cleaner water across the country.

However, there is much more work to be done if we hope to truly protect our nations’ waters.  And it is up to all of us to take part in that discussion.

The BMP Challenge has been an effective tool for reducing nutrient runoff into nearby waterways.  Join us in heeding the call to protect our precious coastal waters by expanding conservation opportunities before it is too late.

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