Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Agriculture and Water Quality in the Corn Belt: Overview of Issues and Approaches

Authors
item Helmers, Matthew - IA STATE UNIVERSITY
item Isenhart, Thomas - IA STATE UNIVERSITY
item Kling, Catherine - IA STATE UNIVERSITY
item Moorman, Thomas
item Simpkins, William - IA STATE UNIVERSITY
item Tomer, Mark

Submitted to: Choices
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: April 30, 2007
Publication Date: July 15, 2007
Citation: Helmers, M.J., Isenhart, T.M., Kling, C.L., Moorman, T.B., Simpkins, W.W., Tomer, M.D. 2007. Agriculture and Water Quality in the Corn Belt: Overview of Issues and Approaches. Choices. 22(2):79-85.

Interpretive Summary: Water quality in agricultural watersheds often remains poor despite the development of a system of voluntary programs and projects. Although a substantial body of evidence on the effectiveness of agricultural conservation practices on water quality continues to be developed, the net effect of these programs and practices at the watershed scale is unclear. Increasingly, studies are focused on the watershed (or landscape) scale and complex interactions between agricultural practices and inputs, the types and configuration of conservation practices on the landscape, and the resulting downstream water quality. This paper discusses development of tools that can support the cost-effective design of conservation policy and/or the voluntary implementation of watershed plans. Integrated water quality and economic models are needed to support better public policy and watershed based solutions to these problems. This information is provided in a non-technical format to reach array of economists, social scientists, agriculturalists and other government officials interested in agricutural policy and water quality.

Technical Abstract: More than three decades have elapsed since the passage of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act with its stated goal of zero discharge of pollutants into the nation’s waterways. Yet water quality remains poor in many locations and considerable loading of pollutants continue. This is particularly true for agricultural sources of water pollution and is typified by the Upper Mississippi River Basin, where more than 1,200 water bodies appear on the current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listing of impaired waterways. Additionally, nitrate export from this region has been implicated as a significant cause of the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which covered nearly 20,000 km**2 in 1999 and more than 17,000 km**2 in 2006. Although a substantial body of evidence on the effectiveness of agricultural conservation practices on water quality continues to be developed, the net effect of these programs and practices at the watershed scale is unclear. Increasingly, studies are focused on the watershed (or landscape) scale and complex interactions between agricultural practices and inputs, the types and configuration of conservation practices on the landscape, and the resulting downstream water quality. Large changes in water quality in agricultural regions are likely to be costly and require major alterations to land use or installation of expensive structural practices. It will be critical to develop tools that can support the cost-effective design of conservation policy and/or the voluntary implementation of watershed plans. Integrated water quality and economic models are needed to support better public policy and watershed based solutions to these problems.

Last Modified: 10/1/2014
Footer Content Back to Top of Page