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Nutrient Management in Environment a 'Wicked ' ProblemNutrient Management in Environment a 'Wicked ' Problem

There are no easy answers to solving non-point source pollution.

Tom Bechman 1

March 13, 2013

2 Min Read

Otto Doering began a workshop on improving water quality by telling those assembled that it is easily one of the harder problems to solve. There are simple problems that can be solved with the scientific method, he says, and then there are what academia calls 'wicked' problems.


"Reducing nitrates in the gulf and solving other environmental issues is definitely a wicked problem," the Purdue University Extension ag professor says. "Compared to going to the moon, it is much more difficult. Going to the moon required solving problems that could be solved with the scientific method that scientists and engineers understand. As long as you don't believe the landing was filmed in Hollywood somewhere, we solved the problem of how to do it, went to the moon and came home."

The difference is that with environmental problems, you can do things to make things better, or things can get worse, but you never totally solve the problem. Soil erosion and nutrients flowing into water from farm fields never drop totally to zero, no matter what you do.

In Lake Erie the problem is high phosphate levels and algal blooms. In the Gulf of Mexico it's about high nitrate levels that trigger events that lead to dead zones in the Gulf at certain times of the year. There is no one cause, and no one solution to either of these problems, or to a host of other problems related to the environment.

The workshop Doering kicked off was a meeting of researchers from different universities doing water quality research within Indiana, plus discussion with those soil conservation partners, including Purdue University, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, which houses the Division of Soil Conservation.

The objective was to learn more about what each other was doing and what information still needed to be collected.

One step at a time is the way you attack 'wicked' problems and make them better, Doering concludes

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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