Federal Water Tap, November 26: USDA Research on Nitrogen Use, Direct Farm Payments

A U.S. Department of Agriculture research branch published reports on the consequence to farm income of eliminating direct payments and on trends in nitrogen used for corn.

One of the debate points for the farm bill is whether to reduce “direct” payments — cash given to farmers based on fixed per-acre rates. The federal government handed out $4.8 billion this way in 2010.

The USDA Economic Research Service found that eliminating direct payments would cause a drop in financial status for only 2 percent of farms that receive such payments. Some regions fare worse, particularly the Mississippi Delta (where 13 percent of farmers would see a drop) and the Southeast (10 percent). New programs, however, could help offset the pain.

As for the second report, too much nitrogen causes a host of water quality problems, so prudent use is paramount. Farmers are slowly moving that way. In the decade to 2010, U.S. farmers improved their nitrogen management, with 34 percent of corn acres meeting best practices, up 6 percentage points from 2001.

Algal Biofuels
The National Research Council will host a public webinar November 27 at 1 p.m. EST to discuss its recent report on algal biofuels. The council found that increasing production to 5 percent of U.S. demand for transportation fuels with current technology would put severe stress on energy, water, and nutrient resources.

Navajo-Hopi Water Rights
After a proposal earlier this year was rejected by both the Navajo and Hopi tribes, there is a last-minute push to get a tribal water rights settlement through the lame duck Congress, Cronkite News reports. On November 14, tribal leaders met with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in Washington, D.C. to discuss terms for the Little Colorado River.

Missouri River
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is asking the Army Corps of Engineers to delay its plan to reduce the amount of water released from Missouri River reservoirs until the Mississippi River channel downstream can be cleared of obstacles, Radio Iowa reports. The lower releases will reduce the amount of water in the Mississippi River and will threaten the shipping industry.

House Energy R&D Hearing
On November 30 a House subcommittee will hold a hearing titled “Tapping America’s Energy Potential Through Research and Development.” The witness list is not yet available.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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