Agricultural productivity has doubled in the last 50 years in order to meet the global population increase in the coming decades. While productivity has become more efficient to meet these demands, experts in the field are concerned about the industry’s impact on water quality.
A new paper from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology discusses research focused on the progress of agriculture and the challenges surrounding the mitigation of surface and groundwater pollution from nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.
Our agricultural systems have increased in efficiency over the last few decades through the adoption of improved management practices and innovative technology, yet natural complexities associated with nutrient cycling and transport processes, compounded with increased climatic variability create dynamic challenges to meeting water quality goals,
” says Dr. Heidi Peterson, phosphorus program director for the International Plant Nutrition Institute and chair of the paper’s task force.
Sources such as septic systems, wastewater treatment plants, and urban nonpoint sources also contribute to the pollution of surface and groundwater; however, nutrient runoff from nitrogen and phosphorus significantly attribute to the issue.
Current management practices mitigate some of the issues caused by agricultural nutrients, but the authors of the paper state there is no one simple fix. Instead, agricultural practices will need to adopt a multilayered effort to improve water quality.
Agricultural water quality issues often headline newspapers without a discussion of the challenges faced by the industry to increase productivity while reducing environmental impacts,” Peterson says. “This report outlines the advancements that have been made and the underlying science to explain why there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to eliminate nutrient loss
Some of the paper’s suggestions include the development of more precise nutrient recommendations, advancements in water monitoring methods, and innovative conservation practices addressing dissolved nutrient supply and transport.
The issue paper also provides an overview of the processes of soil nutrient cycles, management and conservation practices, and programs that influence the impact of agriculture on surface and groundwater quality.