US court ruling shows need for farmers to continue ramping up water quality efforts

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Mississippi River Basin states should be given a chance to address nutrient pollution first, before the federal government steps in, a federal court ruled late last week.

“This decision is a clear victory for agriculture and farmers specifically but our work is far from over,” said Brent Hostetler, Chairman of National Corn Growers Association’s Stewardship Action Team. “Although the court ruled in our favor, the ball is back in our court and we must continue to pursue productivity while ramping up resource conservation.”

Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, and other environmental groups released a report last month faulting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the 1.1 million-square-mile Mississippi River Basin. GRN wanted EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to force states to adopt numeric water quality criteria for rivers, streams and lakes.

U.S. District Judge Jay C. Zainey countered that the Clean Water Act enacted by Congress takes a state driven approach to water pollution and that this comprehensive strategy should be given a chance to work without the use of federal rulemaking.

NCGA, American Farm Bureau Federation, The Fertilizer Institute, Ag Retailers Association and livestock organizations intervened in the case and have worked cooperatively on the nutrient issue to assure the state-led leadership role of the Clean Water Act remains intact.

“Awareness of the need to manage soil and water resources to the best of our ability is at an all-time high in farming and that is translating into positive changes. The combination of new technology and new management strategies is paying off,” Hostetler said. “Maintaining this momentum is critical because critics in the environmental community aren’t going away. Organizationally, this is a high priority and it is reflected in our current and emerging programming.”

NCGA is currently working with affiliated states to promote voluntary nutrient management programs that are designed to fit the unique attributes and needs of each state. Simultaneously, NCGA is a key partner in the Soil Health Partnership (SHP). Soil health initiatives are underway in several states in the Mississippi River Basin which will expand best management practices in water quality and water conservation.

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