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USDA report shows farmers need to do more to keep nutrients out of Mississippi River

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USDA NRCS report.

By Veronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis, MO – A report released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests conservation practices by farmers are helping to reduce pollution in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. But much more needs to be done to keep fertilizers from contaminating water and soils.

The USDA report says most farmers in the Upper Basin are taking steps to prevent soil erosion, such as reducing tillage on their fields.

But estimates show that more than half the cropland is still losing large amounts of nitrogen, and some erosion-control practices are actually making this problem worse.

In spite of the study's mixed results, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said given the right mix of incentives, people will adopt conservation practices voluntarily, without the need for regulation.

"Conservation is something that farmers are embracing, and utilizing, and understanding the positive impact for their farming operation and for the environment."

Vilsack spoke on a conference call announcing the report's findings.

The Upper Mississippi River Basin covers more than 120 million acres, including large portions of Missouri and Illinois.

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