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Flatwater Free Press 

Experts call state nitrate problem serious. Can we solve it?


December 29, 2022

Ryan Soderlin | Flatwater Free Press

Farmer Jason Othmer operates a combine as he harvests corn near Vesta, an unincorporated community in Johnson County, on Oct. 18. Two dozen experts broadly agree that Nebraska agriculture needs to take voluntary steps, like more education, more technology and less use of harmful farming practices, in order to reduce the level of nitrate seeping into the drinking water. But that consensus breaks down when more aggressive steps, like a mandate that would cap fertilizer use, are discussed.

Pretend for a moment that Nebraska somehow halted all use of nitrogen fertilizer – not a single speck more on our lawns, golf courses and corn fields.

What would happen?

Nothing fast.

That's because, experts say, generations of corn growing, feedlot runoff and oft-unwitting nitrogen overuse has left a legacy of nitrate, creeping slowly downward toward our water supply.

"It's there, it's moving towards the groundwater, and there's not a thing we can do about it," said Don Batie, a farmer near Lexington who serves on the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission.

That legacy makes it crucial...

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