A question of epidemics

What’s the solution to the opioid epidemic? Can we really just rely on treatment for the addicted or do we have to address the over-prescription of painkillers, and target the doctors and pharmaceutical industry that supply them?

And how does this topic fit in a water quality blog?

I visited with a neighbor last weekend whose family has been farming for three generations. Keeping the fields “just so” is important to him and his 90-some-year-old mother who still resides there. A couple of his many brothers still help — out of nostalgia — but he is the main farmer on these couple hundred acres. He has restored his dad’s John Deere one-row, horse-drawn plow and has plans for this grain truck.

We serve together on a local watershed board so he knows full well how nutrient loading in surface waters renders them green, stagnant pools this time of year, and he even attended an all-day event to learn about conservation practices. He hates the look of residue on his fields in the fall but has learned to live with it since it’s recommended to reduce erosion. He has cut back, just a little, on the nitrogen he applies to the corn — about 10%, maybe 30% on the beans. He is trying to follow the 4Rs: right time, right place, right source, right amount. He was mowing his grassed waterways for hay the day I visited. Cutting back any more on chemicals, planting those new crops he’s heard of like perennial wheat, or getting assistance to put in BMPs isn’t going to happen though, because he’d rather do it by his own rules and not someone else’s. He’s got his habits.

Following recommendations set by the University of Minnesota, he is trying to be a good steward, using precision techniques. His mother has no idea that satellite guidance now keeps the rows so straight, but she approves.

And the crops look amazing! The corn stalks bulge where the ears are filling out and tasseling. The beans are picture perfect with tiny purple blossoms.

To solve the nitrate epidemic in surface and groundwater, do we continue to focus on more user education? Or is it time deal with those who over-prescribe or supply the potent chemical?

It’s a question that is particularly relevant as the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is developing a rule for nitrogen management, by mandate of the Groundwater Protection Act of 1989. Twenty-eight years later, they have released a draft rule that is open for public comment until August 25.

We think it is inadequate and so will be sending in a comment. We encourage you to form your own opinion and do the same. Nitrate levels in groundwater continue to rise, affecting more and more rural well-owners and towns. It is a societal problem that will not be solved by offering only recommendations.

This is a system problem, not a farmer problem. We need the Department of Ag to provide real solutions that revise guidelines and create measurable goals.

— Carrie Jennings, research & policy director