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What is Agricultural Runoff?

Defintion

Agricultural Runoff is water from farm fields due to irrigation, rain, or melted snow that flows over the earth that can absorb into the ground, enter bodies of waters or evaporate. This runoff can contain pesticides, sediment (soil particles), nutrients (phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium from fertilizers) and metals, which can contaminate sources of water.

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Agricultural runoff is typically a nonpoint source pollution, which means it is hard to exactly locate where the pollution comes from. This is because the runoff picks up other pollutants throughout its travel until it reaches its final location, typically a body of water. Agricultural runoff can occur because of improper management of animal feeding operations, plowing excessively, poorly executed application of pesticides, irrigation water and fertilizer. As agricultural runoff enters bodies of water it can have negative impacts on the environment. Not only can it contaminate sources of drinking water but the chemicals in the fertilizers can be absorbed into aquatic plants, contribute to algae blooms and effect animals’ ability to find food and reproduce. These impacts can be reduced by adapting management practices to local conditions. These practices can include implementing nutrient management plans, using high-efficient irrigation equipment, and limiting pesticide use.

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Other Sources

Swanson, Abbie Fentress. “What is Farm Runoff Doing to the Water? Scientists Wade in.” NPR. http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/07/09/199095108/Whats-In-The-Water-Searching-Midwest-Streams-For-Crop-Runoff. July 5, 2016.

U. S. National Library of Medicine. “Agricultural Runoff.” Tox Town. https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/text_version/locations.php?id=1. Accessed July 5, 2015.

“Agriculture and Water Quality.” Agriculture and Water Quality - Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/science-and-innovation/agricultural-practices/water/watershed-protection/agriculture-and-water-quality/?id=1371491033072. . Accessed September 27, 2019.

EPA. “Protecting Water Quality from Agricultural Runoff” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/ag_runoff_fact_sheet.pdf. Accessed September 27, 2019.