Possible Good News for the Chesapeake Bay?

October 4, 2011 by

Environmentalist including those at The University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, The Chesapeake Bay Program, and The Chesapeake Bay Foundation all expressed enthusiasm for a USDA $850,000 grant to install experimental Combustion and or Gasification systems to treat chicken manure on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in an article published in the Star Democrat on October 4. The grant is administered by The Fish and Wildlife Foundation who will decide where to install the systems in the next few months.

This is an important development for Bay restoration since chicken manure is second only to fertilizer application as a source of Eastern Shore nutrient pollution. According to USGS chicken manure is 35% of nitrogen pollution, while CBF states that it is 26% of Phosphorous pollution. This grant comes in a year when record oxygen dead zones were recorded in The Chesapeake Bay. These technologies produce not only needed green energy but also biochar a soil supplement that can improve soil tilth and reduce erosion. March of 2011 also saw record sediment intrusion into the Chesapeake Bay.

Scientist Debate Food System

September 23, 2011 by



Ken Cassman- Department Head Agronomy and Soils University of Nebraska

Don Boesch- President of The University of Maryland’s Horns Point Environmental Lab.

Dean Hively- USDA ARS Research Scientist

Tom Fisher- Horn Point Scientist and 25 year monitor of the Choptank watershed

Francis Thicke- Author, Iowa organic pasture dairy farmer and soils scientist

Russell Brinsfield- President of the University of Maryland’s Wye Agro-Ecology Center

Walter Willett- Nutrition Dept. Head- leader of Harvard’s long-term epidemiology studies


DONALD KERSTETTER- Trappe Landing Farm & Native Sanctuary

CONCLUSIONS: Submitted by DRK for comments

It is important that we reach a consensus on the actions required to stop the nutrient contamination of rivers and estuaries and the excess production of food responsible for causing our epidemics of cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. This year 2011 we experienced near record oxygen dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay caused mostly by application of fertilizer particularly to corn and a glut of CAFO manure. We also experienced record sediment intrusion from unprotected farm fields into Chesapeake Bay. Also much has been written about the poor health of Americans and out of control health care cost. It is important that the scientific community including nutritionists and environmental scientists work together to find a strategy that works for all including the farmer who starts the food growing process in May of each year. The solution would be much simpler if we left out nutrition and the health of the American people. As Ken Cassman of the University of Nebraska points out improvement in nitrogen uptake efficiency of 20% has been achieved and with more research there is promise of further improvement. Cover crops will help uptake of excess nitrogen and will also help mitigate erosion and sediment intrusion. But as Walter Willett points out these environmental improvements will not solve the health issues which require a substantial reduction in corn based products including sugar and red meat and increases in fruits and vegetable consumption. A healthy American diet is outlined by Harvard’s “Healthy Plate” shown on their website http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/. This provides further definition of the USDA’s “My Plate” initiative. I hope we can all agree that healthy food produced in a way that protects the environment is the goal. Ken Cassman expressed concern that developing Countries will fill the void if the U.S. reduces its corn output and they will have less concern for world ecology, I believe many of these countries are equally concerned and will follow our lead. I base this opinion on the active involvement of China India and other developing Countries who our part of the World cancer study. This dialog points to the need for environmental and health scientists to work together to reach conclusions and recommendations. In my view the following mandatory actions implemented worldwide are required based on these discussions. May I have your comments please!

  1. Reduce nitrogen application rates to corn and beans by 50%.
  2. Require winter cover crops on all tilled farm fields
  3. Require the pyrolysis of all CAFO manure
  4. Ban the use of antibiotics and growth hormones in CAFO production
  5. *Require a representative of the Humane Society to monitor all CAFO and slaughterhouse operations to verify humane treatment of food animals.

*While we have not discussed #5, I believe that you would agree if you view a video of the horrible conditions in America’s CAFO’s and slaughterhouses. If you wish I will forward the video to you.

The primary objection to these Government actions will be corn yield loss. This will force farmers to seek revenues from higher value crops including a variety of vegetables, fruits and nuts. This will make these healthier products more available and help the USDA’s effort to increase consumption of these healthier foods as proposed by their “my plate “ initiative. Americans are suffering from an addiction to the very foods that are destroying their health. Demand for these unhealthy products will increase until the cost goes up which will happen as supply goes down and price goes up. The USDA must also implement an educational campaign to sell consumption of healthy food in addition to the 5 recommended actions. It has taken us decades to create this environmental and health disaster. It will likely take decades to correct.


I thank all who participated in this discussion.


The Entitlement Dilema

August 27, 2011 by

We now see more and more evidence of the failure of Central Planning as proposed by Karl Marx. The failure of the Soviet Union is the outstanding National example. But the failure is now also apparent in many of the social entitlement programs started in the 1930’s. One outstanding regulatory failure is U.S. agriculture and food production.  The inherent diversity provided by small farms who produced food was destroyed by the USDA under Earl Butz in the 1960’s. Mr. Butz decided to subsidize grain farming which produces raw material for sugar, refined grains, and meat. Now 50 years later we have a food production system dominated by unhealthy food widely recognized as responsible for our epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and pathogen exposure plus a production system based on overuse of chemicals and short cuts in soil management and animal manure management responsible for the destruction of our soil, our rivers, and our estuaries including the Chesapeake Bay. Every regulation initiated by Government creates an entitlement constituency that invariably becomes all-powerful. The ultimate result of failed social entitlements is now evidenced by street violence in England, Grease, and Wisconsin. In the case of agriculture the American Farm Bureau, the Fertilizer Institute and the Corn Growers Association supported by captive educational institutions, have successfully resisted all efforts for change suggested by the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force, environmental organizations, schools of public health, and now the USDA’s “My Plate” healthy food initiative. We must learn from these entitlement disasters and establish an automatic sunset on every regulation. We must also elect leaders who are strong enough to overcome the pressure of special interest entitlement support groups in the public interest.

Support for Healthy Food

August 23, 2011 by

The USDA has a history of giving lip service to sustainable farming and healthy food production while giving cash subsidy and more importantly ignoring the soil management short cuts and overuse of chemicals, which are destroying our natural resources.

In 2000 the USDA/ SARE Program published a pamphlet titled “Exploring Sustainability in Agriculture” describing 10 profitable farms, which demonstrated the 8 elements of sustainability developed, by Cornell University’s Food and Nutrition Center. While this and other efforts did encourage many young farmers to adopt sustainable farming methods, older farmers which dominate agriculture supported by land Grant educational institutions refuse to acknowledge that their much touted industrial model has no ability to sustain itself longterm.

In 2008 three major Cancer Institutes, the Harvard School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health published studies connecting overconsumption of Industrial Food products to many cancers, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and antibiotic immunity. We have recently sent letters to 70 Senators, and Congressman asking them to stop supporting grain subsidies and more importantly the bad practices that support overproduction of unhealthy food. Please reinforce this effort by calling your representatives and ask them to support America’s health and natural resources. If you need names and phone numbers of key representatives please advise.


Big Chicken & Pollution-Pew Commission

August 2, 2011 by

The Pew Commission report on “Big Chicken and Pollution” was published on July 27, 2011 in the same week that near record oxygen dead zones were reported in the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. These two watersheds along with other adjacent Coastal Plain watersheds drain almost half of the U.S. land area. Chicken production dominates 15 States including 6 Gulf States and 3 C. Bay States. We have long recognized that both corn fed CAFO red meat and CAFO chicken production including over fertilization of corn used as CAFO feed is by far the Countries largest source of pollution but there were several surprises in this report. Both beef and pork consumption were reported as being down slightly over the last 20 years while chicken consumption was up substantially. With the exception of antibiotics, growth hormones, arsenic, and atrazine contamination this is good news for consumer health. It is bad news for water quality because chicken waste contains up to four times more nitrogen and phosphorous the leading elements causing pollution. While chicken CAFOs are only 15% of CAFO sites Nationwide they produce 60% of the manure pollution (see pg 13). The report is disappointing because it did not mention pyrolysis of animal waste nor pasture raised animals as  solutions not only for nutrient pollution but also for helping restore the Nations soil. Biochar, a product of pyrolysis, is an excellent soil supplement, which can help, sequester carbon, restore fertility and effectively reduce soil erosion. A recent report by the Soil and Water Conservation Society pointed to the planet’s soil as the largest sink of the world’s carbon. S.A. Khan (ref #50) pointed out that poor soil management practice is causing almost every Corn Belt State to leak soil carbon while scientists at Iowa State University and others report that half our corn belt soil has been lost. (See a new Vision for Iowa Agriculture by Francis Thicke PhD.)

Dead Zones, Obesity,Cancer, Heart Disease, ONE SOLUTION

July 28, 2011 by

Near record oxygen dead zones are expected before the summer concludes in both the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Dead zones are primarily caused by over use of fertilizer to grow field corn, which is used to feed animals in CAFOs, to produce sugar used for among other things sugary drinks. Almost 3 times (uptake efficiency of corn is .37) more fertilizer is applied to corn in a normal rainfall year than the crop can use, much more in a drought year. Fertilizer is also used extensively to produce refined grains. Last week it was announced that every State in the U.S. had reached an obesity rate exceeding 25% of the population. Dead Zones and obesity are directly connected since the products that use most of the Nations fertilizer in the production process are the same as those causing obesity (see video of Harvard U. report). In addition the CAFOs which produce red meat use most of the corn. Beef, pork, and lamb overconsumption plus processed meat is causing our epidemics of cancer and heart disease. It is past time to enact recommendations made in 2000 by the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force (see Texas A&M update) and reduce fertilizer application rates Nationwide. This will not only go a long way toward restoring our water resources but will help restore the Nation’s health.

OBESITY-Poor Choices or Poor Food System

July 23, 2011 by

Last week’s announcement that obesity in the U.S. has increased and that now every State and The District of Columbia is officially classified as obese with an obesity rate over 25% begs the question WHY? Harvard University (see video) in announcing their long-term study of obesity referred to poor food choices. The foods cited were; corn oil impregnated chips and fries, hi-fructose corn syrup based sugary drinks, refined grains, corn fed meat and corn fed processed meat*. In addition World Cancer research studies and Harvard studies of heart disease and diabetes also implicate corn fed red meat in these diseases. Corn and other grains have been heavily subsidized by U.S. agricultural policy since the 1960’s. Corn based products and refined grains dominate supermarket shelves and fast food outlets. A scientist involved in monitoring our Choptank watershed recently said that water pollution was analogous to human nutrition and waste disposal. He is right. Short cuts in soil management and over fertilization of corn have destroyed half our Corn Belt topsoil and caused the nutrient contamination of almost every river and Estuary East of the Rockies including the Gulf and Chesapeake Bay. Are poor individual choices responsible for us being among the unhealthiest most natural resource impaired Country in the world or is it Government Farm policy and the resultant dominance of bad food on supermarket shelves, at the ballpark, and at the fast food outlets?

*Also refer to The Harvard and Johns Hopkins Schools of Public Health websites accessible from our reference page for further information.

Congressman Harris-Right For A Change

July 22, 2011 by

Congressman Harris has been a strong voice impeding the restoration of Chesapeake Bay since he joined Congress. He has consistently sided with the Agribusiness Lobby led by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Fertilizer Institute and the Corn Growers Association. So it is a shock to hear him talk about the Bay as a National Treasure and creator of jobs in recommending the NOAA study of algal blooms. I asked two experts on Bay pollution for an opinion about this research. There responses follow:

It is our perspective that there are important things in the world of toxic algal blooms and hypoxia that remain to be studied; that federal assistance for such studies is appropriate and necessary; and that NOAA is the appropriate agency to receive the funds for such studies, particularly in salt and estuarine aquatic environments. However, the need for additional studies must not be used as an excuse to preclude action on what we do know.

Studying algal blooms from space (aerial photos or high res satellite imagery), calibrated with in situ observations, is a valid approach to substantiate the spatial/temporal extent and location of poor water quality. Showing where blooms occur can help point to the terrestrial nutrient sources that fuel the blooms. However, this research shouldn’t get funded by diverting funds from much needed reductions of N and P losses from land (septic/wastewater plant upgrades, winter cover crops, buffers, fertilizer restrictions, etc.).

Both join in urging Congressman Harris to get behind current efforts to implement the TMDL program which shows great promise in reducing Bay pollution and is opposed by the Agribusiness Lobby.

Chesapeake Bay Sediment All time Record

July 18, 2011 by

Last March 2011 sediment intrusion into Chesapeake Bay reached an all time high as shown on the attached (click to see the aerial photograph and accompanying dialog). The dialog supplied by The Chesapeake Bay Foundation implies that urban storm runoff is relatively equal to farm fields as the cause and that the latter can be alleviated with buffer strips.  A little common sense coupled with our experience with sediment runoff alleviation success at the headwaters of LaTrappe Creek causes us to disagree with the alleged source and buffers as a proposed fix.

USGS calculates the area of farming in the Susquehanna watershed as 2% of land use versus 29% of land use for farming. Urban development has been required to retain impervious surface runoff on site for  60 to 100 year storms for decades. The same picture shows the Delaware Bay, a primary urban watershed, with very little sediment runoff. So it is likely that unprotected farm fields are the primary source of  sediment. We have found that winter cover crops (roots in the ground) are the only effective solution to farm field sediment runoff. We have also found that buffer strips of any width do not drop out significant amounts of sediment in stream flow. Grassed field trenches are effective in eliminating trench erosion but will not do much to remove sediment already in suspension. An adjacent farmer simply stopped retrenching field trenches. He lost some yield but slowed sediment runoff considerably. We have also found that installing a small retention pond at the end of every field trench is somewhat effective for small rain events but is no match for the amount of water we had last Spring. An aerial survey of unprotected tilled farm field trenches in the Susquehanna watershed would confirm the true source.

Cooking Meat Cancer Cause?

July 15, 2011 by

Epidemiological studies including, the National Cancer Institute Study (our ref. # 16) and World Cancer Research Fund studies archived under cancer, have established that there is a relationship between red meat and processed meat consumption and the risk of certain cancers but the biological mechanism underlying this association has yet to be established.  A recent study by the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University looks at two known carcinogens produced by cooking meat as a possible cause. Click here for the study .