For Immediate Release
August 11, 2004
Michael Straus, (415) 777-1170
Press Room:

Farmers and Fishermen Fix Marine ‘Dead Zones’
New study shows that organic agriculture counteracts environmental disasters

Chesapeake Bay, Maryland – New research released today by The Rodale Institute® (TRI) and funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) shows that by composting manure, farmers can significantly improve the quality of water entering the nation’s watersheds.

Based on a decade-long study, the report, Water Agriculture and You, demonstrates that compost provides optimum nutrient levels for crop growth while simultaneously minimizing non-point nutrient pollution of ground and surface waters.

“Organic farming can help prevent dead spots in the Gulf of Mexico, and prevent the algae blooms that choke off the crabs, clams and fish of the Chesapeake,” said Anthony Rodale, chairman of the Institute.

Estuaries from the Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico are so polluted from upstream nutrients as a result of conventional agricultural practices that they are often incapable of sustaining aquatic life.

Last year, one of the worst dead zones on record, stretching 150 miles from Baltimore to the York River in Virginia, killed crabs and fish in the Chesapeake Bay Estuary.

According to analysis from The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the bay is currently functioning at only 23 percent of its original quality and productivity. Primary causes of the bay’s critical condition are nutrients and suspended solids from conventional agriculture. Three areas cited as being responsible for more than half of all agricultural nutrients making their way to the Chesapeake Bay are Lancaster, Pa., Rockingham, Va., and the central Delmarva Peninsula.

“Widespread use of agricultural conservation practices is essential to improving the health of local rivers and streams, and ultimately to restoring the Chesapeake Bay,” stated Kelly O’Neill, CBF’s agricultural policy analyst.

The Rodale Institute® research also documents that the use of organic farming practices reduces agricultural water pollution by up to 75 percent, improves quality in surface and ground waters, and benefits water quality in downstream marine environments.

Improvements in soil organic matter levels under organic farming systems have also been shown to increase water penetration and retention in the soil by up to 50 percent, increase crop yields in dry years, improve ground water recharge rates, and reduce soil erosion compared to conventional corn and soybean row cropping.

The United Nations Environment Program recently released a report outlining the rapid growth of dead zones worldwide, threatening 21st century fish stocks. Agricultural impacts on water resources have become major local, regional, national and International issues as recognition of their importance and impacts spread.

Innovative partnerships, such as that between the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and The Rodale Institute, which produced the new report, provide practical ways to balance agricultural productivity with environmental needs.


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