Water run off from farms in Indiana and throughout the Midwest often takes nutrients with it that are important to crops, including nitrogen and phosphorous. They can travel downstream and contribute to a large hypoxia zone, or dead zone, where a lack of oxygen makes it difficult for any organism to survive.
“We’re trying to show folks how Indiana farmers are helping reduce that hypoxia zone.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the annual dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico this year is about the size of New Jersey. It’s close to 9,000 square miles and is the largest ever reported.
An interactive exhibit in the Normandy Barn at the Indiana State Fair lets you see the interplay between rain and topography. It’s an effort to help people understand the issues of soil health and erosion.
“You can show people maps and tell them about it, but we want something really hands on this year,” says Ian Conner, the deputy communications director for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.
The exhibit uses a sandbox, a projector and an Xbox Kinect to create a topographic display.
“While kids will build mountains and stuff, you can also flatten it out and see all the little holes in there like Indiana has,” Conner says. “And when it rains, those holes do fill up with water.”
Conner says some of the water evaporates, but some of it makes its way to a larger waterway. That can contribute to the nutrient runoff which creates the dead zone.
Some farmers use cover crops to keep nutrients on the property. Other options include no-till farming and nutrient management systems.
“We’re trying to show folks how Indiana farmers are helping reduce that hypoxia zone.” Conner says.
The technology is on loan from the Elkhart County Soil and Water Conservation District. They used a program from University of California, Davis to build it.