Upper Big Blue NRD Revisits Issue of Nitrification Inhibitors

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More than eight months of discussion, and there's still no decision. The Upper Big Blue Natural Resource District revisited the issue of nitrates contaminating groundwater Thursday.

"Nitrification inhibitors will cost producers some money. There's also evidence it may save them money in the long run, but that's just a matter of opinion," said Rod DeBuhr, Water Department Manager for the Upper Big Blue NRD.

The Upper Big Blue NRD first proposed mandatory nitrification inhibitors to help reduce groundwater contamination in late February, but met resistance from producers. The NRD offered a new proposal at the public hearing Thursday.

"The proposal is somewhat different this time. Nitrification inhibitors are only being proposed in an area where the nitrates are the highest," DeBuhr said.

While only farmers who apply fertilizer in the fall in mandated zones would be initially impacted, even those in non-mandated zones are worried.

"I think if the levels keep rising, they're going to add more zones to it and restrict us," said Tom Petersen of Cordova.

One recurring argument producers made is that the board makes proposals without clear studies and facts.

"Big question to me is, is there scientific evidence that what we're currently doing is not working?," asked Curt Friesen of Henderson.

"I don't think they're using enough data to base their decisions," Petersen added.

The board cited research from University of Nebraska, but producers remained unconvinced.

"When you look at the number of dealers and cost per acre, you're talking about pulling millions of money out of basically the farmer's budget in order to do something that I'm very concerned won't accomplish what the NRD's long-term goal is," Friesen said.

The nitration inhibitors would be added to anhydrous ammonia tanks. Producers can either ask their suppliers to add the inhibitors for them, or buy it and add it themselves.

The new proposal would also require every producer to use either an electrical resistance block or a capacitance probe in one of their fields.

DeBuhr said it is "to help producers know when to irrigate so that they don't over-irrigate because over-irrigation can leech nitrates out of the root zone of the crop and into the groundwater."

Thus far there has been a lot less protest against these moisture monitoring systems than against nitrification inhibitors.

The public has until Nov. 9, 2012, to submit their written testimony and documents to the Upper Big Blue NRD for consideration.