Karen Adler at the Organic Farming Research Foundation reports on how organic agricultural practices can reduce dead zones that are increasing around the world:
Did you hear that the area in the Gulf of Mexico known as the dead zone is soon expected to reach the size of New Jersey? Due to heavy spring flooding in the Midwest, with a lot more nitrogen-based fertilizer ending up in the Gulf, this year’s dead zone could be the biggest on record. And there are, unfortunately, many other areas in the U.S. and around the world with dead zones created by unsustainable practices. Dead zone is a term commonly used to describe the results of hypoxia. This dramatic impact of chemical-based agriculture on biodiversity and the environment occurs when agricultural nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, leach into waterways and wash downstream, accumulating in the waters of an estuary or bay. The decomposition process depletes the oxygen. Marine life flees or dies when oxygen levels get too low for their survival. Bird and animal populations that feed on marine life also shrink as their food sources disappear. Organic agricultural practices greatly reduce the conditions that create dead zones. Organic farmers do not use chemical fertilizers, the main culprit. Their sources of nutrients, including cover crops, compost, manure, and mineralized rock, are natural and less soluble. Organic practices lead to increased soil organic matter and healthy soil, which enables water to slowly infiltrate the ground, rather than moving along the surface, carrying soil and nutrients with it. Healthy soil structure also encourages plants to establish vibrant, erosion-resistant root systems.