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Posted Thu Oct 22 2009: from SEED Magazine:
The Dead Zone Dilemma
Each year in April and May as farmers in the central US fertilize their crops, nearly 450 thousand metric tons of nitrates and phosphates pour down the Mississippi River. When these chemicals reach the Gulf of Mexico, they cause a feeding frenzy as photosynthetic algae absorb the nutrients. It's a boom-and-bust cycle of epic proportions: The algae populations grow explosively, then die and decompose. This process depletes the water of oxygen on a vast scale, creating a suffocating "dead zone" the size of Massachusetts where few, if any, animals can survive.... The study examined the implications of a 2007 law that requires the US to annually produce 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022. Barring major biofuel production breakthroughs from sources like algae or microbes, most of this fuel will come from crops grown in the central US; the fertilizers and other agricultural waste they produce will flow straight down the Mississippi and feed the dead zone. Hite says the study, led by Christine Costello, found that meeting this goal will make it impossible for the EPA to reach its target reduction in the size of the dead zone. Even if fertilizer-intensive corn is replaced with more eco-friendly crops like switchgrass, the vast increase in agricultural production will cause the dead zone to grow unless preventive measures are taken.
[Read more stories about: dead zones, corporate farming, bad policy]

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