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article imageHemp May Help Everglades

By Bob Ewing     Aug 7, 2007 in Environment
Sunn hemp is a plant with many uses and scientists working with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and University of Florida have found another one. Sunn hemp used as a cover crop can reduce the negative impact of atrazine a herbicide.
Sunn hemp is a versatile plant. It can be used to prevent soil erosion, as high-protein forage, and in older plants, it can be used to make cloth, twine, and rope.
Now scientists working with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and University of Florida have completed a study that indicates that sunn hemp may have the potential to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination from atrazine. Atrazine-based herbicides are used in growing corn and can leach into the soil and groundwater.
Atrazine is widely used around the world and there have been many studies conducted that have showed that atrazine can contaminate groundwater. The studies have detected both atrazine and its products surface water and shallow groundwater.
The Southern Florida aquifer provides drinkable water for most of a rapidly growing population. It is not only the drinking water that is threatened. A project to restore the Florida Everglades may also be at risk according to the press release.
Enough research has been conducted to establish that cover crops can reduce herbicide leaching but to date groundwater quality has not been widely observed and the effectiveness of cover crops on water contamination has not been documented.
The research team looked at the production of sweet corn and included information about whether fields with a highly vigorous cover crop would reduce impacts. Sunn hemp, that was planted during the summer months, when cultivation did not take place, was the focus.
The 2007 September-October issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality will publish the study’s results.
The team monitored the levels of atrazine and three of its products in groundwater that was directly beneath sweet corn plots which were treated annually with the herbicide. On plots maintained with the cover crop, all plant residues were chopped and turned into soil before planting the next corn crop.
The release says that more research is needed to identify plants that are similar to sunn hemp and the low-cost sources of its seed. The high seed cost of sunn hemp is a limiting factor to its widespread use
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