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The hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico has been an issue of much debate in the agricultural community. Essentially a hypoxic zone is caused by an overabundance of nitrogen and phosphorus in the gulf. This excess nitrogen and phosphorus causes a rapid growth of large populations of algae and plankton when they die they sink to bottom to decompose which in turn robs the water of the oxygen necessary to sustain life. The nitrogen and phosphorus is carried to the gulf by the Mississippi river. Many people blame agricultural producers for this problem. The major issues are animal waste and run off from the fields. To handle the situation of run-off we have started to see changes in application of nitrogen fertilizer and to handle the animal waste aspect of the matter people have looked into animal diet management to reduce amounts of nitrogen in the fecal matter. There are other contributors to the hypoxic issue; however, many people just blindly point the finger at agriculture.
Agriculture is responsible for two-third of the nitrogen in the Mississippi river. This partly comprised of field run-off. One option to "clean-up" the gulf is to decrease nitrogen use and or use the most efficient application procedures. Many agricultural producers will not have too large of yield loss from slightly decreasing their nitrogen use. This is a viable option to begin the process of getting the gulf free of all the excess nitrogen and phosphorus. Fertilizer is an essential part of the agriculture in the 21st century we have to look at other ways to treat the problem. Applying fertilizer at other times of the year will also decrease the likelihood of runoff or leaching of the nitrogen into the waterways.
The other part of the agricultural contribution to the hypoxia problem is animal manure. Animal manure has a substantial amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in it and is easily washed into our waterways. Through the use of specified diets it is possible to decrease the levels of the unwanted nutrients. The Council for Agricultural Sciences and Technologies put together a "recipe book" that decreases the output of nutrients. These diets are very important to the reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the Mississippi river.
Another contributor to this hypoxia problem is the average home owner that fertilizers their lawn to keep it "the greenest on the block". In the big scheme of things one home does not make that big of a difference, but if everyone does it then an insignificant issue becomes a big problem. The solution to this is to regulate fertilizer application and only allow certified application specialist to apply all fertilizer in residential areas. The only problem with this answer is that nobody wants to pay for this service and if they are anything like me care how their yard looks and will not trust to somebody else.
There are several major contributors to hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Livestock producers, grain farmers, and average suburban public all do their part to decrease the oxygen levels in the hypoxic zone, however, the problem is not large enough yet to evoke a widespread change. As we move into the future we are going to forced to come with a solution to the problem of hypoxia problem.