Has modern agriculture cleaned up its dirty runoff act?

This is an interesting read on conservation efforts. What was interesting is that farm practices change depending on corn prices with higher price years focusing on increased production pressure on the land. But it was also an interesting insight into how conservation can be an integral part of farming and the two are not separate.

Grist

Even the best conservation measures could be thwarted by severe weather leading to floods like this one in North Dakota, 2013USDA photo by Keith WestonEven the best conservation measures could be thwarted by severe weather leading to floods like this one in North Dakota, 2013

While I was in Iowa recently, Chris Jones, an environmental scientist at the Iowa Soybean Association, showed me this fascinating graph (based on this study). It basically shows how much dirt was in one of the main rivers flowing through Iowa’s farmland over the last century:

GraphChristopher Jones

It doesn’t look like much at first, but becomes more and more interesting as you study it. Because the span of time here is so long (1916 to 2009) and because changes in agricultural policy have had a big effect on the erosion of topsoil into rivers, you can see historical events reflected in these numbers.

That big peak in 1973? That came just after Earl Butz, then the secretary of agriculture, urged farmers to…

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