EPA’s Karl Brooks speaks at forum during Farm Progress Show.
Karl Brooks, the EPA Region 7 administrator for the states of Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas and nine tribal nations, addressed an audience of farmers and agribusiness personnel at an open forum and panel discussion, Bridging Troubled Waters – the Outlook for Water Quality and Agriculture at the Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa. The event, hosted by SFP®, a Verdesian Life Sciences company, allowed attendees to listen and engage with key figures in government and the agriculture industry via an open discussion on water quality and nutrient reduction.

Brooks’ keynote focused on the task of reducing non-point pollution, specifically nutrient loss from agriculture. He emphasized the importance for the agriculture industry to continue proactively implementing practices and partnering with organizations to strive towards environmental sustainability.

“Agriculture is making efforts across the board to control both point and non-point pollution,” Brooks said. “Initiatives such as the Hypoxia Task Force and the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy will be vital in achieving our goal. We need to keep in mind, however, that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Also, this isn’t just a Gulf of Mexico problem. It’s an at-home issue too. The recent drinking water shutdown in Toledo, Ohio, is a perfect example of how what we do can affect our local community.”

“We’re doing a great job of staying ahead of the curve by using a variety of practices to help reduce nutrient loss and cut nutrient loads in water bodies. The EPA has been a partner for 44 years, and we share the obligation and responsibility of sustainable agriculture.”

Dave White, former chief of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) from 2009-2012 served as moderator while other presenters included Alex Echols, executive vice president of the Ecosystem Services Exchange; Clare Lindahl, executive director for conservation districts of Iowa; and Tim Smith, a farmer near Eagle Grove, Iowa.

Echols discussed how to implement a treated water management system to sell water as a commodity. Echols said he views water as the most important commodity and “improving water use increases the bottom line”. Lindahl gave an overview of her work with the soil and water quality districts in Iowa, while Smith outlined the use of two practices he implements on his farm: cover crops and a woodchip bioreactor.

Four panelists also participated in a question and answer session during the panel discussion. Panelists included Smith; Roger Wolf, director of environmental programs and services for the Iowa Soybean Association; Jim Gulliford, executive director of the Soil and Water Conservation Society; and Sean McMahon, North America agriculture program director for The Nature Conservancy and the newly-elected president of the Iowa Clean Water Alliance.

Topics addressed during the panel portion included strategies farmers can implement to benefit the environment, the development of next-generation agriculture and the reduction of nutrient loss from farmland. The consensus among the panelists was that there is and always will be a need for sustainability in agriculture, both economically and environmentally.

Michael Berry, SFP vice president of business relations, said the opportunity to host this event at the Farm Progress Show was compelling. It’s one of the largest farm shows in the U.S., and water quality is a prominent topic.

“As a company, technologies and practices to improve sustainability, nutrient efficiency and water quality are extremely important to us,” Berry said. “We provided an open and honest forum for an exchange of ideas on water quality issues and solutions as they affect agriculture.”

A line of products in the company’s plant nutrition portfolio feature patented polymer technology that protects applied phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers from being lost to naturally-occurring processes. With more nutrients available for plant uptake, fewer remain left in the soil at risk of loss to the environment. These products, combined with a nutrient management program and implementation of best management practices, can help lead to improved water quality.