Solving the phosphorous pollution puzzle

When fertilizers run off into nearby streams, rivers and lakes, phosphorus in the fertilizer can degrade water quality, promote harmful algal blooms and, in extreme cases, cause massive fish kills.

Cloe Garnache

When fertilizers run off into nearby streams, rivers and lakes, phosphorus in the fertilizer can degrade water quality, promote harmful algal blooms and, in extreme cases, cause massive fish kills. These effects also have impacts on recreational activities such as swimming, as well as industries such as fishing. The state of Ohio and countless other stakeholders around the Great Lakes are working to stop the flow of fertilizer into the water. Included in that group are researchers at Michigan State University, who are implementing strategies that start at the source of the issue — farmer decision-making on fertilizer use.

  • A growing body of evidence shows that consumers respond to social norms, but little work has been done with farmers.
  • The MSU team will survey row crop farmers in Michigan, informing some of them of their neighbors’ nutrient management practices and comparing their behavior to those who are not provided the social comparisons information.
  • The team plans to build an integrated model that includes farmers, crops, hydrological systems, aquatic ecology, fish biology and the newly found factors such as farmer decision-making. That integrated model will allow them to see how a small change in farmer behavior can significantly affect beach-going, fishing or performance of numerous water-based industries.

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