Great Lakes to Gulf Summit brings together Midwestern farmers and gulf fishermen to discuss nutrient reduction strategies

The 2019 Great Lakes to Gulf Watershed Leadership Summit was held in Gulfport, Mississippi February 19th and 20th.  This was the second summit of this kind led by Network Director Rebecca Power, Amanda Gumbert of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and extension colleagues from across the Mississippi and Atchafalaya River Basins. Thanks to funding support from the US EPA, the event brought together Midwestern farmers and farm advisors, gulf fishermen, watershed coordinators, Soil and Water Conservation District staff, extension professionals, state and federal agency staff, and non-profit personnel to discuss gulf hypoxia and learn from one another about effective nutrient reduction strategies. In total representatives from 11 different states were present in addition to NGO and federal partners.

Participants discussed increasing and supporting farmer and farm advisor watershed leadership, shared examples of how states have quantified activities aimed at reducing nutrient loss, and expanded their collaborative efforts to reduce nutrient loss to the Mississippi River.

Network Director Rebecca Power addressing attendees of the 2019 Great Lakes to Gulf Summit

A highlight of the summit was a farmer and fisher panel featuring Ryan Bradley of Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United, Tenney Flynn of GW Fins – a premier seafood restaurant in the heart of New Orleans, and Mike Taylor of Long Late Plantation in Arkansas on the Mississippi Delta. Panelists discussed what hypoxia meant to them and their business, the changes they have seen in recent years, and what each of us can do to be a part of the solution.

Following the panel, attendees toured Christian Pass Harbor in Gulfport and saw first-hand the impact gulf hypoxia has on Gulfport’s commercial fishing industry from having to travel farther in order to find healthy fish to smaller shrimp on average.

At the summit, the leadership team for the Mississippi and Atchafalaya River Basins (MARB) Watershed Leadership Network debuted their newly released needs assessment of watershed training programs and programs that cultivate farmer and farm advisor leadership in increasing nitrogen and phosphorus use efficiency in the 12 hypoxia task force states.  The report was reviewed by participants, and together the group brainstormed training opportunities and needs for different audiences.

Preliminary evaluation results show that regardless of affiliation, nearly all participants benefited from being a part of the conversation. One participant noted, “It is very valuable to hear how other states are confronting problems and making progress in developing nutrient management programs. It is easy to feel isolated in this field of work, so it is comforting to know that other states are dealing with the same issues and hurdles. It is also great to have the sprinkling of farmers in the audience to add a dose of reality to the discussion,” while another noted “…having farmers and fishermen interact is invaluable.”

If you’d like to learn more about the MARB Watershed Leadership Network, visit their webpage on our website and sign up to join their listserv.

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