Reducing phosphorus and nitrogen runoff from farms is a complex, costly and long-term undertaking. Unlike wastewater treatment plants and other point sources of water pollution, most farms are nonpoint sources and thus are not regulated under the federal Clean Water Act. Efforts to reduce farm runoff have focused on financially supporting farmers to use best management practices (BMPs) to reduce erosion, especially after applying fertilizer or manure.

The BMPs commonly used in the Midwest include nutrient management planning, use of cover crops, creation of buffer strips along watercourses, and conservation crop rotations, in which soil-conserving crops like perennial hay are planted in succession with row crops. But the science around BMPs is still evolving, with some unfortunate unintended consequences attributed to a common BMP.


Rainfall runoff following fertilizer application - Photo Credit: Penn State University

Challenges outnumber successes

Better science, targeted funding needed

© Ecology and Environment, Inc.    All Rights Reserved

© Ecology and Environment, Inc.    All Rights Reserved

The Ag Angle: Addressing
Farm Runoff