Many take for granted that water from the faucet is clean and safe, or that the lights come on when you flip a switch. Water can be difficult to clean up once it has been contaminated — think of an oil spill — so prevention is key. Missouri is one of the leading states in the nation in agricultural production, and agricultural runoff is a major concern.
Missouri corn farmers are better acquainted with the issue of runoff than most. Atrazine is an herbicide used on more than 80 percent of Missouri’s corn acres each year. As herbicides go, it’s one of the most affordable for what it does at $12 per acre; the next best, equally effective alternative costs $34 per acre. If atrazine levels exceed a certain threshold in the water supply, the Environmental Protection Agency can level sanctions against the offending areas that include limiting or prohibiting use of atrazine, which would force farmers to turn to more expensive alternatives. At that point, atrazine becomes as much of a financial concern for farmers as an environmental one.
That’s where Bob Broz, an agricultural engineering extension specialist, comes in. Through a combination of education and on-farm demonstrations, Broz worked with producers responsible for nearly a third of Missouri’s corn acres to contain atrazine runoff. Broz focused his efforts in the northeast and north central parts of the state, where heavy claypan soils are most prevalent and there are several public drinking water reservoirs. Farmers benefit from continued use of a low-cost herbicide and nearby communities benefit from continued access to a clean and safe water supply.
Resilient communities also take into account that not all disasters can be prevented, but damage can be mitigated with preparation. MU Extension has several programs that help ensure emergency personnel statewide are capable of responding to disasters of all kinds — from fires and floods to drought and disease.
The MU Fire and Rescue Training Institute (FRTI) has provided training for first responders for more than 80 years on handling disaster situations and routine rescue operations. Just this year, the institute added a mobile grain bin simulator to train first responders around the state how to rescue farmers from flowing grain entrapment. Mobile training like this is crucial to properly equipping Missouri's first responders, most of whom are volunteers.
About four of every five firefighters in Missouri are volunteers, which is why FRTI holds classes in all 114 counties. These volunteers often lack the time and resources to travel across the state for training. “We need to be able to reach those volunteers in their communities; where they work and live,” said Dave Hedrick, director of FRTI.
FRTI is just part of the community safety net supported by extension programs, which includes programs that train law enforcement and medical personnel, as well as proactive development efforts, to build resilience in the face of unforeseen disasters. Each program addresses a different aspect of disaster preparation, response and recovery to create a safety net for communities across the state.
Bob Broz and a team of specialists held classes in 49 counties, focusing on areas where atrazine runoff could threaten crucial drinking water reservoirs and areas with the heaviest claypan soils where runoff is a common issue. Their classes have reached 1,320 producers responsible for more than 1 million acres.
Disaster resilience is often underappreciated in terms of its value to a community. Communities see a greater return on investments made in disaster mitigation and preparedness, which ultimately reduce expenses from disaster damage and recovery. A study by FEMA concluded that for every dollar spent on disaster mitigation measures, communities save four times as much on disaster relief and response.
In addition to runoff from farming operations, runoff from livestock operations can also cause water quality issues for nearby communities. The volume of manure generated by a livestock operation could create an environmental hazard, so the question becomes, “What do you do with all of it?” One extension specialist is working on turning that waste into a source of renewable energy. Using technology called an anaerobic digester, bacteria break down manure in an oxygen-free tank to create biogas that’s harvested to be used as fuel to generate electricity or heat water.