The National Corn Growers Association strongly endorses a new initiative announced today by the USDA to help provide for healthier watersheds in the Mississippi River Basin. Corn farmers have long been committed to conservation practices to decrease soil erosion and nutrient runoff from their fields.

“This is terrific news for growers,” says David Ward, chairman of NCGA’s production and stewardship action team. “Farmers have long been carrying out many of the recommendations listed by the USDA as best practices, and their support will help us promote these efforts and expand their adoption throughout the basin. We’ve always believed that an approach that values and promotes voluntary efforts works much better than regulatory mandates, which usually come at a much higher cost.”

The USDA’s Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative provides a $320 million investment over four years to support programs in 12 states – Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin – to help farmers voluntarily implement conservation practices which avoid, control and trap nutrient runoff, improve wildlife habitat and maintain agricultural productivity.

The goal is to target resources in those watersheds that could have the largest impact on improving water quality in the basin and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. The program will be implemented by the Natural Resources Conservation Service using funding from the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative and other farm bill conservation title programs.

Nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from farms in the Mississippi River basin have been cited as one factor in the seasonal hypoxic (low-oxygen) zone in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Louisiana coast, which impacts marine life there. Of course, hypoxia remains a complex environmental issue resulting from natural and man-made events, and many contributors of nutrients to the Gulf of Mexico have yet to be identified.