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A lot of folks use fertilizer, why target only agriculture?

spreading fertilizer
Like many of my neighbors, I fertilized my lawn last weekend. It’s something I do every spring as the grass starts to green. I barely think twice about it. Mostly, I just want to get it over with so I can watch the basketball games on television.

But I paid more attention this year thanks to the lawsuit that Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) filed last month against drainage districts in three northwest Iowa counties.

The lawsuit seeks to force the drainage districts, which are in Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac counties, to obtain permits for alleged discharges. DMWW CEO Bill Stowe has also sharply criticized the voluntary Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which provides farmer information on opt­­ions to reduce nutrient loss.

While they are pointing an accusatory finger at agriculture, I haven’t heard DMWW officials say much at all about homeowners, golf courses and others in the Raccoon River watershed who rely on nitrogen fertilizers to keep things green.

When I treat my lawn, I work to keep the granules off the driveway and the street, because I know that nutrients there could easily find their way to the river. Just like farmers, I want to protect the watershed.

But, I confess, I don’t use anything close to the precision tools that Iowa farmers now employ to make sure crops absorb nutrients and don’t get into water.

I didn’t do a soil test to determine how much fertilizer my lawn really needed. I didn’t add a nitrogen stabilizer to the fertilizer to make sure it stayed put until the plants could utilize it. And I certainly wasn’t using a GPS guidance system, the high-tech system that farmers utilize so they can program their application equipment to shut off to avoid streams and other sensitive areas.

Nope, I just poured the fertilizer into my spreader and took off. And I suspect most homeowners who live in Raccoon River watershed, as well as lawn services, golf courses and others in our state’s urban areas, did exactly the same thing.

We all live in a watershed and are responsible for protecting rivers, lakes and streams. It seems curious to me that DMWW seems to target its criticism only at agriculture, when Iowa farmers are really the ones stepping up and leading the way to protect water.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.