Innovating Farming To Reduce Algae

Specialized tilling equipment can selectively incorporate phosphorus in soil and help farmers prevent it from running off into waterways. (Photo by Simon Crouch)

Farmers who are concerned about the possibility of new regulations to prevent run-off of nutrients in order to prevent algae blooms could get some hope from a four-year long study into conservation tillage methods.

The study combines some alternate ways of working the soil, including no-till, the use of a variety of cover crops and selective application of nutrients like phosphorus.

Merrin Macrae, Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo says farmers taking part have reduced their phosphorus run-off to less than a half pound per acre.

“Very minimum till, so nutrient management, minimum till and sub-surface placement of their phosphorus in bands with their seed in spring, or in the fall if they are going to winter wheat,” she says. “Where you plant the seed is where you want (the phosphorus), it’s where it needs to be when the plant needs it.”

She says the target should make it possible over time to reduce the amount of phosphorus in lakes and help reduce the number and severity of blooms but she cautions it won’t be a quick fix because there is already a lot of nutrients in land that will continue to seep into waterways for some time to come.

“I think certainly the innovative people we are working with are definitely at or near the targets that we hope to achieve so I think we can use what these people are doing on their farms as an example of how we can get there.”

She also says different soils react differently so there is no single solution for every farm.

Story by Simon Crouch, contributor.