Today is World Water Day, and it just so happens that this year focuses on water and food security! Agriculture is not only a primary user of water, but it also impacts water quality considerably. A recent National Geographic Magazine article explored the challenges posed by agriculture in the Mississippi River Basin. As part of the Global Water Issues News Series, the article lays out how the vast swaths of areas cultivated in crops and dosed heavily with fertilizers and other inputs are impacting the Gulf of Mexico.
The issue is critically important considering the reach of this region of the United States, producing the bulk of the country’s corn, grain, cotton, sorghum, soy, and even livestock. The article not only documents the oxygen-deficient environment caused by the runoff of fertilizers and wastes along the Mississippi, but also articulates plausible solutions for tackling this watershed-scale issue. These consist primarily of shifting the practices and crops of individual farmers.
However, such a complex and large-scale issue could benefit from broader and more coordinated efforts in the basin. The United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS) instituted the Mississippi River Basin Health Watersheds Initiative as a step in this direction, directing certain Farm Bill conservation programs and extension support towards priority watersheds.