Archive for April, 2010


April 25, 2010

When the Founders met in Philadelphia to declare Independence in the mid 17 hundreds there was another problem evident. Old Dock Creek which ran through downtown Philadelphia to the back of Independence Hall and Carpenters Hall was polluted with human waste. The odor in downtown Philadelphia was intolerable. In the early days of city development the sewage was thrown into the street to be washed into the creeks and rivers by the next rainstorm. Cities began to pipe the sewage along with the storm water but the pipes all went to the nearest surface water.

This problem has shifted from the Cities to the Country. We now produce 40 times the amount of animal waste as human waste. Each chicken produces 2 pounds of waste including litter and all of it is placed on the ground close to the chicken house and either is washed into the nearest stream or the nitrogen leaches into aquifers. We produce 8 billion chickens and 16 billion pounds of waste each year in 10 major broiler producing States. Most of the heavy producing States are in Coastal Plain watersheds which further exacerbates the contamination of aquifers. The Delmarva Penninsula produces 1.6 billion pounds of broiler waste while Georgia produces 2.8 billion pounds. Some of these States also produce unmanaged waste from hog and dairy CAFO’s. The problem of unmanaged waste starts in the production facility, the CAFO. These facilities are described by Johns Hopkins University in the paper farmacology as perfect pathogen incubators. In order to keep chickens alive for 8 weeks these facilities have increased the output of their ventilation systems which has increasingly contaminated the air around the facility and increased the incidence of diseases such as MRSA to neighbors of these facilities. Technology has been developed which can produce clean fertilizer and energy from the waste and keep our water and air clean. As with human waste management, society always seems to be behind the problem. Unfortunity 5 decades of ignoring this issue has substantially destroyed Chesapeake Bay and other East Coast Estuaries including the Gulf of Mexico.


April 23, 2010

Yesterday on Fox evening news there was an announced EPA ban on Meat showing a steak package with an X. The announcement was followed quickly with a disclaimer to the effect that while meat production was the primary cause of violation of  the clean water act there was no fomal EPA action against meat production. Clearly the EPA nutrient load charts for the Chesapeake Bay identify the meat producing and dairy CAFO’s of rural Pennsylvania and the chicken CAFO’s of Delmarva as the primary source of Chesapeake Bay pollution but this announcement on the 6 o’clock news was a false alarm.

Meat Eaters-Cheap Skates

April 20, 2010

When the EPA nutrient load maps came out last fall clearly showing the cause of Chesapeake Bay water quality decline, I thought that once a problem is so clearly defined a solution can not be far behind. Not so! The problem is far from a solution. I believe the reason is that most meat eaters are also cheap skates and will not pay a little more for grass fed meat and dairy. Why else would grass fed meat not be on supermarket shelves in the East allowing people to make their own choices. If you happen to live in Berkeley California this is not the case but so far the most affected Eastern States are far behind in presenting solutions. And of course when was the last time that Burger King advertised grass fed burgers.

I don’t mean to imply that the Chesapeake Bay watershed is the only area of the Country that is suffering the effects of CAFO meat production. Georgia, Arkansas, and Alabama produce more than double the number of chickens as Delmarva. The former grasslands of Eastern Colorado are now cattle CAFO’s. I have asked EPA to produce a Nationwide nutrient map which I will publish when available. In the meantime stay tuned to this site which will continue to identify grass farms and pasture based farmers  Don Kerstetter

ST BRIGIDS FARM-in Kennedyville MD

April 17, 2010

Despite being a dairy farm which has the potential to be a significant source of Chesapeake Bay nutrient pollution and despite that it is located smack in the middle of the deepest red nutrient pollution area of Delmarva, St Brigids Jersey dairy and veal farm is not polluting the waters of Chesapeake Bay. How can we be so sure? Owners Bob Frey and Judy Gifford have gone to extreme lengths to find out. They participated in a North East Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant to determine thr nutrient balance on their farm. The following is the calculation.

Total for farm Total per ac
Tons N /yr Lbs N per ac
Nitrogen Inputs 14.5 525.5
Imported Feed 9.2 334.6
Imported Bedding 0.2 6.7
Imported Animals 0.0 0.0
Imported Fertilizer 3.8 137.2
Legume Fixation 1.3 47.0
Nitrogen Outputs 5.7 209.1
Animal Products 3.4 125.4
Cash Crops 0.0 0.0
Manure/Compost 2.3 83.7
Balance (Potential Loss) 8.7 316.4
Other N Flows
Manure N Produced (animal intake – prod) 13.9 503.9
Manure N after Storage (measured) 4.8 176.4
Manure N Applied (Stored + Import – Export) 2.5 92.7
Manure N Avail to Crop (Applied -Field loss) 0.9 32.4
Total N Avail to Crop 6.0 216.7
Total Crop N 7.9 288.0
Non-Legume crop N 5.9 216.0
Total Feed N Consumed 17.1 622.6

The report indicated that they had a positive balance for nitrogen  because they had to import grains to satisfy the high nutrient need of lactating cows and their acreage was insufficient to provide sufficient forage hay year-round. They now haul away the collectable manure. While they were confident that their pastures were not leaching nitrogen into aquifers because the grass is capable of scavenging sufficient excess nitrogen from the manure. They also checked their aquifers for nitrate which is the only way to be sure.

It would be wonderful if every farmer showed sufficient concern about the potential for nutrient pollution to do a nutrient balance study and take appropriate action. If that happened voluntarily all the money being spent by the government and others would be saved. If that happened the Nations topsoil would not be destroyed and the waters would not be polluted and species destroyed. Congratulations to St Brigids for their leadership.

We have asked another expert with USDA to check the probability of nutrient balance in the pastures of St Bridgids. His opinion will be posted under comments.

Last time I checked the pricing of St. Brigids products they were reasonable compared to supermarket products. We will do a later pricing post.

St Bridgids veal and beef is available at the farm and several area restaurants including Brookes Tavern in Chestertown MD.


April 11, 2010

The Executive Director of The Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) had a very interesting article on the promise of sustainability in a recent issue of Passages their bimonthly publication. He addressed remarks by Bob Stallman, President of the American Farm Bureau, who said at a recent conference that the word sustainability was overused and  secondary to economic reality. Quoting Brian Snyder; ” So when we look at Government control over our food and farming systems, perhaps you can agree with me that regulations are created to serve the unwilling. I am very distressed to hear the Stallman Doctrine calling for an unwillingness to work as hard as we can to save this beautiful planet of ours, and for that attitude, I assume we will eventually be rewarded with more regulation.” These thoughts hit home to the writer who is a Conservative as the reason why controls are needed in a free society. The free enterprise system is the most powerful and innovation inspiring economic system the world has ever seen. I for one would not change it despite its shortcomings. The systems developed by Industrial Agriculture are brilliant in many ways. However as currently  structured they ignore too many important basic issues as outlined in our references. The most important of these is our topsoil destruction which will require centuries to renew. Other important unintended consequences can be corrected in decades but we must start restoration now. Stallman is typical of the short term thinking of Union leaders since Samuel Gompers who often destroy the very industries they serve and depend for their power. Trading short term economic gain for the long term survival of agriculture, healthy food, and our two most important natural resources, the current direction, is clearly unsustainable which best defines the word sustainable.

HEALTHY FOOD-Will It Come East?

April 10, 2010


Even though Berkeley California is the home of food writer Michael Pollan, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of food available in local stores and restaurants. The word organic was everywhere. The chicken at a Chinese restaurant was Sustainable Free Range from a local farmer. When our hosts found we were interested in sustainable food they took us to the new BERKELEY BOWL WEST. This store makes Whole Foods look like a 7- eleven. They apparently started as a produce store and expanded into meat, fish, dairy, and ethnic foods. In all categories the variety is incredible. I did not know that there so many varities of carrots and olives. There were fish species I had never seen in our stores. Several brands of all the cuts of grass fed beef and half a dozen brands of Free Range and organic chicken most labeled antibiotic free were available. While the prices were higher than we are accustomed to, it showed us that people were willing to pay for higher quality. The store was jammed with people. It also shows that people will pay for quality even in tough economic times.



April 10, 2010

thanks to Tom Hughes for his many inputs to this site including this Editorial from the Washington Times titled stop “Big Corn”

Please also see a related article on our reference page.


April 9, 2010

This post relies heavily on the recently published 3rd edition of soil management by Magdoff-Van Es, which can be purchased from the USDA-SARE program.

The documentary Big River shows the Spring 08 soil erosion disaster in Iowa. Iowa farmer Chuck Pyatt summed it up when he said that Iowa has lost half its topsoil in his lifetime and wonders what happens when it is gone. There is evidence that this concern expressed in 1997 by USDA- ARS in bulletin 2279 is now being given much needed but belated and inadequate attention within USDA. Recently Secretary Vilsack in announcing the reopening of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) said that creating buffers around fields in the Missouri and Mississippi watersheds was necessary to stop wind and soil erosion. What about the rest of the field and the rest of the Country Mr. Secretary? In 1997 NRCS the agency directly responsible for preventing soil erosion defended an erosion rate of 5 tons per acre per year which was occurring on 40% of the cultivable farm fields in the US. Many other academic and farming organizations did the same. On what basis was dumping 25 ten-wheeler dump trucks of precious topsoil for every 100-acre farm field into our Creek ok? Certainly the disappearing oysters dying from sediment cover didn’t agree. The basic theory was that recently developed and widely implemented conservation tillage equipment which minimimally disturbed the soil, left sufficient amount of erosion protective crop residue on the surface which would rot into humus ultimately replacing the lost soil organic matter, often referred to as soil carbon. In a letter to the editor of the local paper a citizen voiced concern about the obvious erosion from the trenches coming from farm fields. The local head of NRCS came to the defense of farmers on the basis of their purchase of the above equipment at considerable expense. In 2007 S.A. Khan published a study (see references under soil), which showed that every Midwestern State save one was losing carbon or essential organic matter. This was followed by the Midwestern soil erosion disaster of 2008. Only diehards in the agribusiness sector are now defending the current soil management system.

Bulletin 2279 also pointed out that some areas of the world have tilled their fields for thousands of years and maintained their soil organic matter with minimal erosion. How do they do this? The USDA, coincidentally, recently released the third edition of Magdoff/Van Es “Sustainable Soil Management”. The theories expressed have not changed in this edition but there are many more examples of crop rotations used with economic success particularly involving increased pasture years in the rotation. Three basic principles are cited and emphasized to increase soil organic matter and reduce erosion.

1. Increased number of crops in rotation. While the study does not state this it becomes apparent that single crop and 2-crop rotations should be banned.

2. Increased live roots in the ground.

Points out that the standard corn/soybean rotation has an active rooting period at 37%  Adding a winter cover crop more than doubles the active rooting period to 76%

3. The principle source of soil organic matter is crop residue. Corn is one of a few crops with large residues. However, is it being returned to build soil or is it being used?  Corn silage extensively used in the Pennsylvania portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed as cattle feed is an example of short changing soil management by using crop residue.

On April 1st I took a cross-country flight. Looking down at the great Midwest I saw the predominance of the color brown with a few patches of bright green. Huge areas of the US are greatly exposed to massive topsoil loss. Most of this farming is subsidized. Should taxpayers be forced to pay for poor management of our most important natural resource? Industrial Agriculture features the largest amount of tillage or disrupting of the planets surface the world has ever seen. There is huge inherent risk in disturbing this amount of the earth’s surface. Multi year rotations and organic inputs have proven effective. Industrial agriculture decided to cut corners and use monocropping and a two-crop system and it has not been successful. At the current rate of topsoil destruction our children already faced with a legacy of debt will be left with a legacy of unproductive soil and it’s consequences. The last thing I want is Government takeover of our Agriculture system but unless Corporate Agribusiness faces up to its responsibilities we will also lose this sector to government takeover and socialism.    Don Kerstetter