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For Our Future, Someone Has To Think About Dirt

For Our Future, Someone Has To Think About Dirt

Farmers are trying to mitigate nitrate pollution from fertilizers and soil erosion in their production practices. But some say we need to shift away from corn and soybean production as the nation's biggest crops to other, more sustainable ones.

Bruce Peterson, a farmer in Minnesota, was surveying a field where he planted a winter cover crop of rye.

"It's a little bit green over here, but it's really spotty," he said.

He grabbed a shovel from his all-terrain vehicle and dug into a patch of ground where shoots of rye were coming through.

"The soil is nice and loose," he said.

Peterson said the rye will make the soil mellower, potentially improving the yield on soybeans he'll plant this spring. "It can prove out to give us some benefits," he said. "You know, dollars and cents, economically — but also environmentally.

Environmentally, because the rye will also suck up excess nitrates that come from natural sources, but especially from fertilizers.

Nitrates are pollutants and make their way into streams and rivers, sometimes contaminating drinking water.

And they eventually wash down to the Gulf of Mexico, where they're harming fish and shrimp.