Using an Ancient Approach to Farming to Address Lake Erie’s Modern Problems


Using an Ancient Approach to Farming to Address Lake Erie’s Modern Problems

Columbus, Ohio – August 5, 2014 – Although the phosphorus that contributed to the ban on drinking tap water for most of Toledo’s residents this weekend came from many sources, most experts will point to agricultural runoff as the primary culprit.

Gypsum, or Calcium Sulfate, is a relatively common mineral that has been used in agriculture for thousands of year to improve soil conditions and crop growth; Benjamin Franklin is credited with bringing the practice to America.

Recently, gypsum has come back into focus not only to help farmers support their livelihoods, but also to assist their stewardship of the land and the impact their practices have on the surrounding waterways.

Research led by Dr. Warren Dick, a professor of soil and environmental chemistry with the Ohio State University Department of Environment and Natural Resources, studies gypsum as a tool to directly address the problem of excess phosphorus leaving Ohio’s corn and soybean fields.

This study, now in its second year, applies calcium sulfate directly to fields in the Maumee River watershed, currently the largest single contributor of phosphorus in Lake Erie.  Average reductions of 55% in the concentration of phosphorus in water leaving the farm fields are being achieved.

While gypsum was historically mined, this research makes good use of a modern source, the calcium sulfate that is a byproduct of flue gas desulfurization, a process that removes sulfur from the exhaust of coal-fired power plants.  The beneficial reuse of this gypsum turns an otherwise landfilled material into a valuable and environmentally beneficial soil amendment.

While there is no “silver bullet” for dealing with excess phosphorus in the Great Lakes, the use of gypsum as a soil amendment, combined with other management practices, holds serious potential to help prevent algal blooms in the future.

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Posted in HSHW.

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