Nitrogen and the Upper Mississippi River

This purpose of this paper is to open debate about the future of the upper Midwest landscape. It addresses options that can truly reinvent the agricultural systems of the Corn Belt, (coinciding with the Upper Mississippi River Basin) moving this area from one dependent on a grain economy with low economic returns and high nutrient and sediment runoff, to a more ecological based landscape containing nutrient sinks, especially for nitrogen, a legume base for supplementing nitrogen fertilizer, and a high level of management that minimizes nitrogen and phosphorus runoff to the rivers while supporting family farms and strong rural communities. This reinvented agriculture will ultimately benefit the Gulf of Mexico through the reduction in the amount of area affected by hypoxia. The paper is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the literature, nor one that offers solutions to the problems facing the watershed and its owners and operators of the land. Rather it is designed to facilitate discussion of the goals of U. S. agriculture.