Planting will soon be underway for most Illinois farmers, and while brain bandwidth may be scarce, it’s worth thinking about.

In this case the river is the Big Muddy and the thought is hypoxic. Hypoxia is the environmental state where dissolved oxygen in water cannot support aquatic organisms.

Illinois has the longest stretch of riverfront property in the Mississippi, and officials have long set goals to reduce the amount of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) flowing into the river, which helps to a larger aquatic dead zone than some states. Agriculture is not the only culprit, but it has been the biggest for the longest time.

In September 2021, state officials released a biennial report required by the state’s nutrient loss reduction plan. While the report touted progress in outreach to growers, state soil and water conservation districts and other groups, the news was equally bad.

In 2015, Illinois officials set a long-term 45% reduction goal for N and P loading reductions from a 1980 to 1996 baseline to improve the quality of water. Interim targets included a 15% reduction in nitrogen and a 25% reduction in phosphorus by 2025.

Instead, nutrient records show a 13% increase for N and a 35% increase for P over the 1980-1996 baseline. Nutrients didn’t just miss the reduction targets for 2019 and 2021. They actually increased.

The great flow of nutrients

The Mississippi River basin extends as far west as the Idaho-Montana border, as far north as Canada, as far…