GUEST OPINION: Work group survey outline concerns about environment

By KADY LANE, guest columnist

Each year a select group of county residents and conservationists are surveyed about local environmental issues.

Survey questions range from concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, issues around erosion, pest pressures, plant health, habitat welfare and water quality issues. The results indicated that the survey participants were most concerned about water quality issues, pest pressures and habitat for wildlife.

In this article, I will do a deeper dive into the concerns about water quality.

Nearly 63 percent of the people surveyed stated they felt that field settlement, including nutrient and pathogen loss, was a high concern in the county.

What does this mean? Simply put, it means that pasture production and grazing animals can offer positives and negatives.

Through nutrients left behind from producing high yield quality fields and pathogens left from urine and feces produced by grazing animals, water quality can be degraded. Nitrogen and phosphorus are the two main nutrients of concern in this case. Elevated levels of phosphorus in your body can leach calcium from your bones, causing them to be weak. Too much nitrogen in the air can cause breathing problems and too much in the water produces NO3, commonly called nitrate.

Too much nitrogen in water can cause the body of water to go through a process called eutrophication. This is a process in which a body of water becomes overrun with plant life, which in turn causes a die off of all animal life. Yes, eutrophication is a natural process that occurs over the course of hundreds of years; however, when there is too much nitrogen released near a body of water this process speeds up.

What can be done to help mitigate the effects?

Cover cropping and prescribed grazing are perhaps two of the most effective tools that can be used. Yes, it is true cover crops can trap nitrogen before it makes it into the groundwater, but this nitrogen will then be there when you plant your next round of cash crops, hopefully increasing your yield.

Prescribed grazing, according to Purdue University, offers a number of environmental benefits, including less rain runoff because of better water-soil infiltration; better water quality because growing forages trap sediment and nutrients; improved animal waste distribution because waste is more evenly spread over several paddocks; and less erosion because dense, thick, vigorous forages reduce runoff. Prescribed grazing also offers increased livestock health, in terms of reduction of hoof issues and lower instances of parasite infections.

The United States Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) is a nationwide collaborative process of individuals and organizations working together to maintain and improve the management, productivity and health of the nation’s privately owned grazing land.

For more information about the USDA-NRCS Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative visit www.in.nrcs.usda. gov/programs/GLCI/glcihomepage.html

If you would like to participate in our local group survey, please reach out to Erin Kirchhofer at brown@iaswcd.org or call 812-988-2211.

Kady Lane has worked as an educator for many years, teaching science in grades seven to 12 as well as adult education for Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Her master’s degree is in environmental studies and her undergraduate is in human services and psychology. Lane is currently the Brown County Soil and Water Conservation District educator and can be contacted at kady-lane@iaswcd.org.