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Technology – Not Regulation – Is Answer to Water Quality

The decision by Des Moines Water Works to sue three northern Iowa counties has brought out opposition from several individuals and groups insisting regulation is not the answer, including Governor Terry Branstad, the Iowa Soybean Association, and the Farm Bureau Federation.

Last week, Titan and Goodyear Farm Tires hosted an educational event in Boone, Iowa. A roundtable discussion on water quality issues might seem a bit off topic for a tire manufacturer’s event, but given the location and timing, it made sense to discuss the impact that regulation would have on farming.

Roundtable participants, including Bill Northey, Iowa secretary of agriculture; Paul Reitz, CEO of Titan International; and Don Van Houweling, owner of Van Wall Equipment, all agreed that technology – not regulation – is the answer for improved water quality.

Van Houweling pointed out present and future technology that will allow farmers to reduce nitrogen applications. AquaCheck, owned by Van Wall Equipment, allows farmers to look at soil moisture to understand how much nitrogen is present in the soil. Right now companies are experimenting with drones that could apply 50 pounds of nitrogen through a foliar application. One day robots could carry 50 to 100 pounds of nitrogen down rows and apply nitrogen at anytime during the growing season.

“Technology, not regulation, will allow us to do what we need to do to reduce nitrogen applications,” says Van Houweling. “It is happening today. It’s being designed and tested. We need to do this because we don’t want the regulatory approach. It’s up to us now to make those investments to develop the technology and distribute it so farmers can use it.”

Northey agrees that technology will help farmers understand what’s in the soil profile and help them to split nitrogen applications. “Technology is going to work through this, and farmers are motivated to do this right,” he says. “The biggest demotivation in the world is regulation.”

He adds that regulation also doesn’t allow for innovation. For example, if a farmer was required to put on 60 pounds of rye because of a regulation he would have to do it, even if he could find a way to get the same germination with 30 pounds of rye. “To me, that’s the poison of regulation,” explains Northey.

Titan CEO Paul Reitz agrees. “As a large manufacturer with plants all around the world, I believe regulation is not going to solve a thing,” says Reitz. “Technology solutions are out there and, if not, they will come. Let’s believe in that process. Look at where we have come in the last five years and look at where we are going to be to feed the growing population.”

While technology will be a part of the water quality solution, Northey also points to the efforts by Iowa farmers as part of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, including using cover crops and buffer strips. “In Iowa we say this is voluntary, but it’s not optional,” says Northey. “Find your place to get involved. Figure out what works for you. We need everybody involved, but it shouldn’t be a regulatory approach.”

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