A new agreement is linking Iowa State University and the 11 other land-grant universities in the Mississippi River watershed with a task force to work on reducing what’s called the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. John Lawrence, the ISU Extension director of Agriculture and Natural Resources, says the collaboration is modeled after the successful relationships the school has created with state and federal agencies in trying to reduce farm runoff while keeping Iowa farms productive.
“What this memorandum of agreement does, it says that the universities will work together to address this problem –share information back and forth within our respective states. We’ll work with the agencies tasked with developing a strategy as we’ve done here in Iowa,” Lawrence says. “And third, through our extension services at in these land-grant universities we’ll work with agriculture to address the problem head on.”
The dead zone is caused by nutrient runoff and the excess growth of algae which depletes oxygen levels. The hypoxia task force was established in 1997 and consists of five federal agencies, 12 states and the tribes within the Mississippi River basin. Lawrence says the idea is to find the things in common that the universities in the Mississippi River states can do to address the problem. “If you look at Iowa and Illinois, Indiana, there are some similarities there and we will share information accordingly. Minnesota and Wisconsin obviously have some corn production acres, but perhaps more — particularly in Wisconsin — there may be more pasture land. If you get downstream you look at Tennessee or Missouri or Arkansas, they have different cropping systems,” Lawrence says.
Lawrence says the weather has a big impact on the amount of runoff and the size of the dead zone. “The farming practices and the activities and actions of the cities on the can have an impact on the size of the zone as well, and that’s why we are working together to address it,” Lawrence says. Lawrence says the collaboration between the universities will help continue the advances that have been made in addressing the problems that lead to the dead zone.