Farmer Changes Practices to Stop the Gulf Dead Zone

By Gabi Moore
Sep 01, 2010

The Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone has been declared one of the largest ever this year; void of oxygen due primarily to fertilizers that run off into the ocean from Midwestern farms. Thankfully, on the mainland,  farmers like Minnosota’s Tony Thompson are working hard to stop further damage to this already-devastated body of water.

Thompson grew up on a farm, and came to hate farming practices, like tilling the soil, for being so destructive.  So he came up with a plan that would be better for the environment, using a soft touch on the land instead of tilling to prevent erosion and runoff.

“This is where I make my living. This is where my ancestors made their living. I’m not interested in fouling my nest,” he told CNN.

Thompson planted a field of alfalfa uphill from a lake on his farm, because alfalfa is a “greedy” plant that sucks up the nutrients so the fertilizer doesn’t get into the water. He also installed an underground bioreactor that manages to remove 50 to 80% of nitrates from the water.

The runoff that Thompson is trying so diligently to prevent causes massive algae overgrowth, which depletes the oxygen and suffocates the plant and animal life that can’t escape (shrimp caught in the zone commit suicide by jumping onto the beach). The dead zone this year covers 6,000 square miles — an area twice as big as last year. It hasn’t reached the “tipping point,” where it’s large enough to dramatically affect fishing industries, but it is only growing. The Gulf is already under intense stress, particularly with the damage from the oil spill still lingering.

Thompson feels that taking care of the water is his responsibility, and that other Midwest farmers should make the same efforts in keeping the water clean. The Gulf of Mexico can affect the nation and the world in a variety of ways. If farmers took the same measures as Thompson, the damage might be stopped.