Researchers seek ways to decrease algal blooms from phosphorous runoff

Previously on the Neogen blog, we’ve written about how rising ocean temperatures are worsening the risk of shellfish poisoning due to the increasing presence of toxic algal blooms that thrive in warm waters.

Today we’re taking a look at another contributing factor to these algal blooms: phosphorus runoff.

First off: What is phosphorus runoff, and where does it come from?

Phosphorus is a very important nutrient for crop production that washes away from fields during rainstorms. From there, it enters streams, lakes and oceans. Once it reaches the water, phosphorus contributes to the growth of algal blooms, which produce toxins that can contaminate shellfish and other marine life. These toxins lead to dangerous illnesses in humans who eat the affected seafood, like amnesic shellfish poisoning, diarrhetic shellfish poisoning and paralytic shellfish poisoning.

Though farmers have made efforts to reduce phosphorus runoff, scientists are always looking for ways to help. In one recent paper, researchers looked for ways that financial incentives could motivate farmers to implement new phosphorus runoff management practices.

The scientists ran a simulation with 50 real-world farmers located around Lake Erie, a U.S. Great Lake recently affected by a 700-mile-long algal bloom. They presented farmers with four incentives: a cash payment, a cash payment with insurance, a tax credit and a certification price premium. Though the farmers only had to change their management practices on mock farms, the cash payments were real, based on how well each person performed during the simulation.

Some results surprised the researchers: Farmers didn’t seem to prefer cash over tax credits or vice versa, and that when insurance was a factor farmers requested more money. Overall, the researchers were glad they got in touch with members of the agricultural community to look at solutions that might benefit all parties.

“Talking to the real decision makers is key,” said study lead Leah Palm-Forster. “It can be difficult to get farmers to engage with you, but it’s really important and we learned so much from working with them in that setting.”

Neogen offers rapid tests to detect shellfish toxins and other seafood concerns. Click here for more information.

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