Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Farmers blamed for Lake Erie algae blooms

Lake Erie is once again plagued by algae blooms that suck oxygen out of the water leading to massive fish kills, and farming is being blamed this time.

The last time agriculture was only one of several sources of phosphorous and the main action to clean up the lake was outlawing laundry detergents that incorporate phosphorous and adding tertiary treatment at sewage treatment plants.

The result was a dramatically cleaner Lake Erie.

This time agriculture stands at the top of the hit list of a new report that will be coming out later this week from the International Joint Commission, a body created by the United States and Canada to deal with water issues of interest to both nations.

The U.S. side takes the hardest hit because of increased phosphorous fertilizer applications to grow more acres of corn to meet the demand for ethanol.

But the Grand and Thames rivers that carry water from the richest farming fields in Southwestern Ontario are also blamed in the report.

What remains to be seen is any detailed recommendations the report may offer about reducing the phosphorous runoff from fields.

One solution has been shelved by the Ontario Pork marketing board and a research team at the University of Guelph.

That’s the Enviropig, a genetically-engineered strain of pigs that have had a gene inserted to produce phytase in their saliva so they need less phosphorous in their feed rations to achieve optimum meat-producing performance.

That, in turn, means they poop out lower levels of phosphorous, meaning there is less to run off into lakes and streams fertilized with hog manure.

The Enviropig was shelved because it became too expensive to keep on providing ever-more data to the federal government officials in Canada and the U.S. who decide whether genetically-modified organisms ought to be approved in the food-production system.

Ontario’s main response to the challenge of phosphorous runoff from farm fields has been the development and implementation of a Nutrient Management protocol.

It was required of the largest and newest farms when it was launched and has progressively been required for more farms. It is designed to balance the amount of fertilizer applied to fields with the amount that will be used to grow the crop in question.