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Amid Blue Green Algae Blooms, Farmers Do What They Can

Flooding can cause Phosphorus and other chemicals to runoff into nearby waterways. (Brock Turner, WFIU/WTIU News)

Testing will continue throughout the holiday weekend at Lake Monroe for Blue Green Algae. That’s after the Indiana Department of Environmental Management or IDEM advised Hoosiers of high levels in the lake earlier this month.

Experts say Blue Green and other types of algae thrive in environments that are rich in Phosphorus—a chemical that occurs naturally in soil. While small amounts of runoff are generally expected, problems can occur when larger quantities enter waterways.

That—experts say—can be the cause for much of the growth at Lake Monroe.

Crops like corn and soybeans rely on phosphorus to grow. Farmers often apply it to their fields to help maximize their yields.  

“If we have higher levels of phosphorus entering our water ways we’re promoting that plant growth in the water, which again, is going to really stimulate that algae to grow,” Jennifer Chen, a Resource Conservationist at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Indianapolis office says.  “But then it ends up suffocating out a lot of the other beneficial species that we have in the water.”

Rush County farmer Ben Wicker serves as the Executive Director at the Indiana Agriculture Nutrient Alliance. He says chemicals don’t do farmers any good if they wash away. 

“Fertilizer and phosphorus fertilizers included in that can be one of the greatest input costs that a farmer has per acre on his farm.”

Chen says farmers have plenty of tools to help limit runoff. Among them are no-tilling fields which leaves phosphorus in the ground, planting cover crops, and using precision techniques that help them apply less product. But there’s only so much they can do.

“We’re dealing with Mother Nature a lot of times and we have inherently leaky systems,” Wicker says this spring’s flooding and nutrient loss from runoff added complications for farmers.

“I don’t think it’s any worse this year than in typical years,” Chen says. “Partly because as the weather was not cooperating early on in the year farmers were making some of those decisions to apply—or not apply more specifically because of the fact that they weren’t going to be able to plant those fields.”

Both anticipate farmers to continue finding ways to limit runoff. 

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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