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More to the story with river pollution

To the Editor:

In a June 13 Times article Streator City Manager Scot Wrighton and other Streator officials blamed farmers for pollution problems in the Vermilion River. They think it is unfair that the city of Streator may have to change their treatment plant to meet regulations and think the focus should be on agriculture instead.

The issue arises because of the 2015 Illinois Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NLRS) Plan. The plan aims to reduce nitrates and phosphorus flowing from Illinois into the Gulf of Mexico. The report determined that 80 percent of the nitrate load was caused by agriculture with the phosphorus problem evenly split between agriculture and urban waste treatment plants.

Agricultural nitrate losses are caused by leaching of nitrogen fertilizer by rainfall out of the soil and agricultural phosphorus losses are caused primarily by soil loss with the phosphorus attached to soil particles. What Mr. Wrighton and the others did not acknowledge was that agriculture recognized there was a problem before the 2015 report and had already moved to correct the problem. The 2015-2017 NLRS biennial report found a 10 percent decrease in nitrates compared to the 1980-1996 levels but a 17 percent increase in phosphorus loads “by an increase in effluent from wastewater treatment plants.”

Mr. Wrighton fails to recognize the $55 million spent in Illinois by the agricultural sector in 2015 and 2016 on research, practices, and outreach to correct agriculture’s problem. Or the research and education done by the Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council funded by a tax on fertilizer sales. Or the $500,000 committed by Illinois Farm Bureau for education and outreach. Or the work done by the National Corn Growers, Illinois Corn Growers, Illinois Soybean Association, and the Illinois Beef Association to promote good stewardship. No-till, strip-till, and conservation tillage are reducing soil loss and phosphorus loss. Changing in-field practices such as split nitrogen applications only during the growing season, soil and tissue sampling, cover crops, and variable rate applications all are leading to a reduction of nitrogen lost from the soil.

The list goes on and on. Many if not most of the changes are instituted and paid for by farmers themselves. These changes will show up in future biennial reports as reductions in agriculture’s contribution to nutrient loading.  Agriculture has recognized its problem and is moving to correct it.

David Isermann
President, La Salle County Farm Bureau

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