There's good news and bad news about the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The bad news is CNN.com reported last week that the hypoxic zone was the third largest ever mapped. The good news is it was not as big as predicted this year. This "dead zone" is found off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.



According to CNN.com, "The 7,900-square-mile area with almost no oxygen, a condition called hypoxia, is about the size of Connecticut and Delaware together. The Louisiana-Texas dead zone is the world's second-largest hypoxic area," says Nancy Rabalais, chief scientist for northern Gulf hypoxia studies.



The article goes on to say that this year's zone is about 7.5 percent smaller than what Eugene Turner, professor of oceanography and coastal sciences at Louisiana State University predicted. He had predicted this year's size by judging nitrogen content in the Mississippi River watershed. He predicted it would be about 8,540 square miles, which would have made it the largest measured in the past 22 years.



These findings are not terribly surprising considering that more corn was planted in 2007 than any time since World War II. There was bound to be more nitrogen in the water supply, by some estimates.



When I wrote a story updating regulations affecting the industry for the June issue of AgProfessional, I spoke with Kathy Mathers at The Fertilizer Institute. One of the concerns TFI said it'd be watching was the hypoxia zone in the Gulf. She said TFI feared more environmental organizations would be waiting to pounce on agriculture if the zone grew in size this year. This report seems to confirm TFI's fears.



However, before this report was publicized, TFI submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency on its "Draft Science Advisory Board Hypoxia Report" refuting several recommendations in the report including the implementation of fertilizer taxes and a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus loadings to the Gulf, which would seriously impact U.S. farmers' phosphorus fertilizer use.



TFI contested the effectiveness of fertilizer taxes citing USDA economic analysis finding that an increase in fertilizer price would be unlikely to affect fertilizer demand; and specifically that a tax on fertilizer is unlikely to reduce fertilizer use in corn production.



"The poor correlation between either nitrogen or phosphate fertilizer use and size of the hypoxic zone indicates a more complex problem than simply nutrient over enrichment," TFI's report said.



Farmers and retailers do not need any more taxes on the products they need to grow the nation's food supply. High fertilizer costs already prevent most farmers from applying more than they need to. With the increased usage of variable rate technology, farmers are able to apply fertilizer and chemicals in a much more precise way than ever before. Throwing a tax on the industry will not solve the hypoxia zone problem.



In the meantime, we can thank TFI for keeping watch on this problem and supporting the industry.