Rain, snowmelt, excessive use of fertilizer and pesticides, all contribute to runoff from farms. Agricultural runoff is rich in nutrients that fuel of algae blooms in waterways, harming our drinking water and closing beaches.
MEC’s goal is to position Michigan as a leader in sustainable agriculture, and we believe that reducing agricultural runoff is a key component in that effort. Our work is focused on updating state and federal standards, and shifting attitudes around farming to encourage greater sustainability and health of our waterways.
Commercial farms’ use of fertilizer is responsible for a majority of the nutrients that feed Lake Erie’s toxic algae blooms. Fertilizer is rich in phosphorus, a key ingredient in plant growth, but when too much phosphorus enters a waterbody, nutrient loading occurs and can trigger an explosive growth in algae. When the algae dies, it absorbs oxygen in the water, creating dead zones and the eventual die-off of aquatic plants and animals.
Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)
Confined Animal Feeding Operations, more commonly known as factory farms, cram livestock into crowded spaces-- an unnatural and unhealthy condition that causes disease and concentrates manure in a small area. The manure is spread on fields where it can runoff into streams, rivers and other water bodies where it fuels toxic algae blooms. CFAOs also produce as much waste as a medium-sized city with virtually no rules and standards. The consequence? Horrifying sewage overflows that regularly foul drainage ditches, streams and ponds, making the water toxic for aquatic life and human contact.
Soil plays a critical role in crop production; healthy soil yields more crops while also absorbing carbon in our atmosphere and filtering pollutants in our water. Protecting soil health is key to combating climate change and feeding our growing population, but overuse of fertilizer and pesticides is damaging soil and impacting farmers’ bottom lines. There are many ways we can boost sustainable agriculture, and composting is just one tool in the toolbox. Compost is made of food waste and other organic matter. It can be used as a fertilizer, reducing farmers’ need for nutrient-rich commercial fertilizer and manure that can run off farm fields and into our waterways. Some studies indicate that compost helps reduce pests and weeds, too. When farmers use compost it boosts soils’ ability to hold water and keeps in nutrients that help plants grow which, in turn, helps filter water and reduces nutrient runoff. Compost also helps soil absorb more CO2.