Archive for June, 2010

TMDL- Hope for Chesapeake Bay?

June 29, 2010

When the EPA rolled out the TMDL (total maximum daily load) program, the mandatory limit on nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment pollution, last Fall I had high hopes that Bay restoration efforts were finally on the right track after 30 years of frustrating failure. I now realize it will not succeed for two reasons.
1. Most researchers including President Clinton’s blue ribbon commission on Gulf Hypoxia, USGS national monitoring, the Farm Animal Industries Pew Commission, UM. Horn Point Lab’s Choptank monitoring, the EPA’s nutrient load charts for the Bay agree (see references on the website) that between 80% -94% of nutrient and sediment pollution is caused by current industrial agricultural practices. These studies represent rivers and estuaries in more than 50% of the US land area. It will not stand to penalize Grain/CAFO farmers in one section of the Country thus forcing them to be non competitive in a national and international market. Nutrient and sediment pollution is a national problem and must be solved with national mandates.
2. After the EPA sets the TMDL for proposed 54 Bay Watershed segments the administration of solutions in Maryland falls to State agencies that outlined their plan at a meeting in Denton Maryland on 6/23/10. The plan proposes the same voluntary compliance program, which has failed for 30 years. Extensive water sample monitoring was not proposed but seemed to be embraced only after questioning. Five Maryland Governors including the current Governor have backed away from meaningful action when faced with the opposition of agribusiness. The latest is Governor O’Malley’s backpedal on proposed CAFO permitting. When Governors ask Land Grant Universities for an opinion they receive an opinion based on the influence of the American Farm Bureau, the Corn Growers Association and the Fertilizer Institute their large contributors, while in fact a majority of agronomists and soil scientist understand the damage being done by current industrial agricultural practices. (see our 6/19 post)

Iowa State University Agronomist Fred Kirchenmann states in our 6/19 post that industrial agriculture needs basic system changes. But Gulf study scientists including USGS, the Pew Commission, and USDA soil scientists believe that there are 3 actions that could help reduce pollution substantially 1. Reduce application of chemical fertilizer (at least 25%) from current levels. 2. Increase number of crops in yearly rotation including winter cover crops i.e.: ban the current single and two crop rotations 3. Pyrolysis of CAFO manure. These actions on a national scale would increase price and decrease consumption of corn-based red meat and corn based processed food and improve national health. (See health references on our website). Public apathy and agribusiness success at shifting responsibility is a major impediment to needed action. Every person should answer the question. Does our generation really want to leave our children with the legacy of massive pollution, topsoil loss, unhealthy food, and poor health, which is the current status and direction?

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ETHANOL- Another Washington Boondoggle

June 26, 2010

I just returned from Eastern Service in Cambridge MD. without our 1-year-old Husqvarna chain saw. David Stevens, the owner, told me that the cylinders inside were so badly scored that it was not worth repairing. He said that they are finding that ethanol additive is causing the gas and oil to separate and that people unknowingly are running their small motors without lubrication. He further stated that most of his shop work is directly caused by ethanol additive in fuel. Recent articles in The Classic Car Club Magazine and AAA magazine cite problems with conventional large gasoline engines. Antique car collectors tend to allow their vehicles to sit without starting the engine for periods of time and are particularly vulnerable.

Seldom discussed is the effect of increased corn production on water quality. Corn has the highest nitrogen need of most any crop as it is grown today by industrial agriculture. At the same time it is among the lowest in uptake efficiency of any crop. In an average rainfall year corn uses about one third (1/3) of the applied nitrogen two thirds (2/3) goes into aquifers or directly into surface water, Even more is unused by the crops in drought years. Excess fertilizer applied to corn is the principle cause of oxygen deficiency in most rivers and estuaries in the Country and is killing the water species. Nowhere is this more apparent than the Gulf of Mexico where Hypoxia has increased due to corn based ethanol (see our references for a taped interview with a Gulf scientists and more about ethanol in an article “The great ethanol Scam” in BusinessWeek magazine)

Studies are mixed on whether there is any fossil fuel usage advantage in using ethanol fuel additive since corn production is driven by oil based chemical fertilizer, weed/pest killers and oil fueled farm equipment. If there is an advantage it is slight compared to the damage it is causing as a fuel additive. Do you want your tax money spent to subsidize ethanol fuel additive or do you even want ethanol mandated in fuel? The ethanol lobby is trying to increase the mandated amount added to fuel. Is that what you want?

America’s Topsoil Loss Disaster

June 19, 2010

Most consequences of our Industrial agriculture and food production system can be restored if we change to sustainable systems, including our obesity and diabetes epidemics, deteriorated longevity and reduced healthfulness. Even rivers and estuaries can recover their ability to support wildlife. But one consequence of industrial agriculture cannot be easily restored; the loss of our precious topsoil. This takes eons to form and minutes to erode, and it has been leaving our farms at an alarming rate for decades.

In the Spring of 08 just after SA Kahn of the University of Illinois warned us that every Midwestern state but one was losing soil carbon [which means low fertility and erosion exposure], one of the largest erosion events in the Nations history occurred. Gullies 200 feet wide appeared in the fields of Iowa. Farmer Chuck Pyatt appeared in the documentary Big River as the floodwaters were receding and said that Iowa had lost half its topsoil in his lifetime. He was right.

Ecologist Alan Savory said: “The US enjoys the greatest concentration of scientists and wealth ever known in one nation – but she exports more eroding soil annually than all her other exports combined—–Wealth, ultimately, means soil. And yet ever-larger farms are said to be ‘economic’ when this is simply not true. The US claims to be feeding the world when the true position is that the US farmers are bleeding the world with their topsoil losses”.

Ecologist John Jeavons quoted in an article “The Joy of Dirt” in Ode magazine states that at the current rate of loss using current farming practices the US has between 40 and 80 years of topsoil remaining.

The USDA agrees with these assessments in publications in 1997 and again in 2009.

Alan Savory believes that this can all be reversed by millions of human beings returning to the land and to food production and  returning livestock to the land. He claims that a growing number of scientists now accept that Modern Intensive Grazing Systems deserve to drive land use. Based on our Post – Scientists support -Grassland the Future of Sustainable Agriculture he appears to be right.

Thanks to Jan Hively at the University of Minnesota for sending me the thoughts of  ecologists Savory and Jeavons and to Dean Hively for his excellent editing help. I cannot answer the concern voiced by Ms Hively about Congressman Colin Peterson of Minnesota who is the Chairman of the House Ag Committee except to ask him a question. How can you and your colleagues, while knowing the damage that is being caused by industrial Ag’s. single crop and 2-crop grain farming systems, lack of  winter cover crops, and chemical overuse continue to use our tax dollars to subsidize them, without receiving something in return to begin to ameliorate the damage to human and environmental health?

Opinions-Mature Grain Farmer-Scientist

June 15, 2010

When we started Trappe Landing Farm I said to our contract farmer who was about to retire. “What is causing all this sediment to pour off the farm fields and into the Creek and what about fertilizer which people are saying is the primary source of water pollution.”? I was very uneducated about these issues at that time. I have thought many times since then about his reply. “We lost something when we got away from green grass farming” I have since learned that it was not just the switch to corn fed animals raised in CAFO’s but what evolved was an agriculture based on shortcuts in soil management and massive over application of chemicals. As farmers increased fertilizer application rates to increase yields they did not realize that corn has the lowest uptake efficiency of the cereal grains and that 2/3 of the nitrogen in good years was not being used by the crop and much less in draught years. They went to single year and two-year rotations, which have, live roots in the ground less than 32% of the time exacerbating erosion and sediment. Unlike other areas of the world they did not use winter cover crops to protect the soil. The CAFO concept was abused by overcrowding which created a perfect pathogen incubator and the need to use high dosage of antibiotics to keep animals alive and also introducing the ethical treatment issue. But perhaps more importantly corn fed animal products are high in saturated fat low in omega 3 and other elements found in grass fed products. While regulation of industrial farming is required to eliminate these abuses of the soil and the animals themselves, consumers can solve these issues with their food choices. The following is a comment we received from a PHD scientist with USDA who is very familiar with all these issues.
Dean Says:
May 25, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Reply
Certainly higher quality foods such as grass-fed meat products take more time to grow and produce, but Don is absolutely correct that they are worth the price – there is a physical and ethical benefit that comes from eating healthy foods, and a documented increased health factor in the pasture-raised animal that is translated into more complex and healthy tissue in the product that winds up on your plate. It’s called ecology. We should each take responsibility for ourselves, and reduce our meat costs by eating sustainable meats less frequently while avoiding unsustainable product. Yes they are cheap and easy, but in this day and age we don’t really need to respond to the evolutionary conditioning that makes us crave sugars, carbohydrates, and abundant protein sources. Eat less, but more healthy meat – make it a treat and enjoy it. And replace the protein on the non-meat days with plant products such as beans, vegetables, and soy products. We will all gain health by cutting poorly produced meats out of our diet. They are dangerous and not so tasty!

Grazing Pasture-A major solution

June 10, 2010

An article in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s spring “save the bay” magazine on restoring Antietam Creek stated as follows:

“Grazing systems on dairy farms offer yet more promise for improving Antietam Creek. Grazing systems allow cattle to feed on pastures, which reduces the need for corn. Fertilizer from cornfields is a big source of nitrogen pollution. So cutting down on corn feed is a boost for water quality.”
Post Author- Fertilizer from corn production and associated CAFO meat production causes +90% of Mississippi watershed pollution and the large Gulf oxygen dead zone. The Mississippi watershed covers 41% of the land area of the US. Corn and CAFO manure production causes 94% of Delmarva Peninsula nutrient pollution and most of the sediment pollution. It is 80% of Choptank River and LaTrappe Creek pollution. The EPA nutrient load charts for Chesapeake Bay show that corn production and CAFO manure in rural areas of Pennsylvania and the Delmarva Peninsula are the overwhelming major source of Bay nutrient pollution and the annual oxygen dead zone in the main stem of the Bay. (see our references for the science that supports these statistics)
Walter Willitt of Harvard U. states that there is a consensus among nutritionists that corn based red meat and corn based processed food is the major cause of the US diabetes and obesity epidemics. The National Cancer Institute in the largest ever study of longevity concluded that red meat consumption including pork significantly reduced life expectancy. Note; Grass fed meat products are up to 7 times lower in saturated fat, higher in omega 3 and significantly healthier in many other ways.
So if introducing pasture into farm field rotations solves so many environmental and health problems, why is there relatively little pasture production? Author’s opinion.

1. Perceived farmer economics. The following is from the same article:
“In a 15 year study by Maryland Extension Service, grazing systems have proved as profitable as traditional systems—in some cases, even more.”

Fred Kirchenmann-Iowa State University- Dick Thompson here in Iowa has demonstrated that farmers can do better financially on prime Iowa farmland with a 5-year rotation, 3 years of grazing followed by corn and soybeans.
Matt Leibman, weed ecologist at ISU found that by simply going to a 4 year rotation, 2 years of Alfalfa followed by corn and beans one can cut herbicide usage by 85%, nitrogen inputs by 75% and cut a farms contribution to global warming by 60% and increase corn yields in the process.

2. Government Policy- Current Government subsidy policy supports grain farming only with minor exceptions

3. Consumer education and resulting demand- The majority of Consumers have not shown a willingness to pay a little more for pasture raised products and avoid much of the high fat, high sugar processed food that dominates supermarket shelves in order to save our natural resources, benefit their long term health and lesson health care cost?

Bon Appetit-A Model to Emulate

June 5, 2010

Bon Appetit is a large food service management company servicing corporations, colleges, and universities at 400 locations in 29 states. They were a member of the Pew Commission on farm animals. The following is paraphrased from their website. Their website addresses many of the issues caused by the shortcuts used to create our industrial food system. The writer choose the following 3 issues as an example of their responsible approach to food production to encourage viewers to visit their site.

We realized that much flavor was being lost in exchange for agribusiness efficiencies and decided to begin a concerted effort to buy locally from farmers we know. Our first choice is to buy from farmers within a 150-mile radius from each of our locations.

The declining effectiveness of antibiotics against common bacterial infections is a growing crisis in human medicine. This decline stems from heavy use of these precious medicines not just in human medicines but also in agriculture. 70 percent of antibiotics used in this country are fed to farm animals that are not sick, in order to promote growth or prophylactically treat diseases caused by questionable animal husbandry practices. As a socially responsibility company, Bon Appetit is committed to helping to address the public health threat from antibiotic resistance.

As of March 2007 our chicken and turkey is raised without antibiotics and our hamburgers are made from “natural” grown chuck. While natural is not a legal designation our suppliers are committed to:

No antibiotics ever

No added growth hormones ever

No animal by products in feed ever

Humane treatment

In 2005 we realized that most eggs came from hens confined in what is known as battery cages. These barren enclosures are so restrictive that birds can hardly move, let alone engage in most natural behaviors such as nesting, foraging or even spreading their wings. Each hen is allowed a space less than the size of a standard sheet of paper. Thousands of these are stacked creating poor air quality and massive amounts of manure, which is unsafe for farm workers and a significant contributor to water, and land pollution. We have decided on third party certification and have an independent auditing firm HFAC to assure that our hens have areas to nest, dust bathe, scratch and perch. I raised hens as a kid and know they become attached to you and you to them. I can not imagine anyone eating eggs from these sources and yet this is the egg that dominates the supermarket.

While Bon Appetit food is not available to the general public, the practices they use are an excellent model for a family to adopt if interested in healthy, humanely and environmentally produced food.