Recently, I have heard some environmentalists complain about using tax payer money to clean up the environment. They say, “let the polluters pay,” meaning farmers should pay the entire bill.
Really? Wow, talk about denying, deflecting, and defending. It is my sincere hope that people study the impacts of climate change and its effect on nitrogen and phosphorus runoff before denying culpability. I hope they realize they are part of the problem and need to be part of the solution; unless, of course, these environmentalists deny climate change is human induced and/or that they have had any part of climate change.
Let me be clear: farmers need to do a better job of soil and water conservation. The nitrogen and phosphorus levels reaching our water bodies are absolutely too high. And there is no doubt agriculture land is a primary source of this nutrient loading. But farmers are not solely responsible for the nutrient loading from agricultural land.
Just do the research or ask any reputable scientist. They will tell you that climate change has led to more intense spring rainfall events when agricultural land is must susceptible to runoff.
I realize environmentalists don’t want to admit they are a part of the problem. Hey, I don’t want to admit I am part of the problem. I would rather blame someone else. I live on Main Street of Carroll, Iowa. Why should I take any responsibility? But being a scientist, and a believer of science, I know I am part of the problem like everyone else. The science is crystal clear. Given the fact we are all part of the carbon footprint, we are all part of the problem. and we all need to be part of the solution.
Across most of the United States, the heaviest rainfall events have become heavier and more frequent. Since 1991, the amount of rain falling during very heavy precipitation events has been significantly above average. This increase has been greatest in the Northeast, Midwest, and upper Great Plains – more than 30% above the 1901-1960 average.
Research demonstrates “nearly all nutrient export occurred when discharge was greater than the median discharge, and extreme discharges (≥ 90th percentile) were responsible for greater than 50% of the NO3–N export and greater than 80% of the P export.” Royer, et. al
If climate change is caused by societal activities (CO2emissions), then why should farmers be the ones to pay the full price of cleaning up our water? If society wants cleaner water, and we can acknowledge that climate change plays a role in increased soil erosion, shouldn’t we expect society to split the bill with farmers?
Furthermore, can we regulate an industry (agriculture) if a significant portion of the pollution is being caused by other cogs in society? But of course, to shore up my argument, you would have to accept that climate change is due to human activities. Novel concept.
Again, I am NOT giving farmers a pass. They need to do more. We all need to support the effort of cleaning up our waterways. So next time you want to blame all water quality issues on farmers, consider your impact on global warming. Instead of taking the position of deny, deflect, and defend consider how we all need to be a part of the solution, both farmers and non-farmers.
Most Iowans — and especially our ‘environmentalists’ — are willing to put 3/8 of a cent toward funding improvements to our state’s soil and water. We need Iowa’s legislature to realize a meaningful, collective investment here.
Ryan, I absolutely agree. Many environmentalist do NOT feel this way. They are committed to improving water quality and are willing to pay. But that is not everyone…
Agreed the cost needs to be shared. Although because farmers grow a commodity it is hard, at this time, to see how they can directly pass the cost on the the consumer. That is why we all need to be in it together.
Great post! This is something we hear all the time from both environmentalists, farmers, and everyone else. The environmentalists blame the farmers, the farmers blame the cities, and it goes round and round.
Of course, in the long-run we all pay no matter what. Even in the environmentalists dream scenario, where farmers alone must pay for their pollution, the costs will ultimately be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices. Unless environmentalists recognize this simple economic fact, their solutions are self-defeating.
Well said, Tom. We are all culpable. Let’s work together to improve soil health, water quality, and reduce our carbon footprints through our lifestyles.
I know there are environmentalists in Iowa who say farmers should pick up the whole tab. And certain individuals are especially fond of posting that opinion over and over, especially on DES MOINES REGISTER stories, which is highly annoying.
But in my experience, those individuals are far outnumbered by the Iowa conservationists, and especially Iowa conservation organizations, that are working to get more public funding to help water quality work on farms. And arguing that Iowa farmers should be doing more conservation to help water is not the same as arguing that Iowa farmers should have to pay for all that conservation.
And regulation and funding are not the only issues. When some Iowa farm groups used their considerable political clout to prevent the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy from having reasonable basics such as standards, benchmarks, timelines, targeted watershed approaches, and transparent water testing, it’s not surprising that many Iowa conservationists were angry and disappointed. Our hundreds of comments on the draft Strategy were essentially ignored.
I completely agree that “deny, deflect, defend” is not productive, whether it’s being done by conservationists and/or farmers. I would also point out that thousands of Iowans have shown with our votes that we are very willing to pay for cleaner water.
Cindy, I absolutely agree that many, many citizens of Iowa (and other states like Minnesota) have spoken and voted to open their pocket books.
The INRS employs NRCS standards with all practices. Bench marks, time lines and transparent testing are all mandates and invasions of privacy. Mandates come necessarily with an army of enforcement bureaucrats and penalties. Let’s give voluntary a good long chance.
I am all for the voluntary effort, but I believe there needs to be some timetables for progress. In my view, not setting timetables on water quality is like saying we want to balance the national debt but don’t want to set a timeline for doing it.
Don, the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy as written ignores common sense. Every year we members of the public are reminded that New Year’s resolutions are very likely to fail unless they are broken down into manageable smaller goals with benchmarks and timelines. Iowa voters and taxpayers deserve a lot better than just being told that Iowa water will “improve over time.” How much time? A century? Why should Iowans have to wait indefinitely when water in the Chesapeake Bay, where timelines and benchmarks are being used, is improving a lot faster than water in the Gulf?
Cindy, you make a good point. Until we have a timetable there is no way to harness resources to get the job done. Again saying we want to clean up water but we don’t want a timetable is like sayign we want to balance the budget by we don’t want a timetable. Both are complicated and uncertain, but we all need goals.
The research is clear that our predominant cropping system–corn and soybeans–is inherently leaky of nitrogen and erodes soil at 10x the rate soil regenerates. It is also clear from the Science Assessment of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy that more ecologically sound farming practices, such as including small grains and perennials in rotation and using winter cover crops can reduce N and P loss to below the 41% and 29%, respectively, called for in the INRS.
Let’s not blame our failure to make progress in improving our water quality on climate change.
Francis, thanks for your comment. I fully support alternative crops in Iowa. It would have a huge impact on the protection of our natural resources; water, soil, and climate. Small grains could provide a significant role in achieving our water quality goals. However, as the way things are now, if even a small percent of Midwest farmers start planting these small grains the price will crash. Please let me know if I am off base. I do like really like the idea of putting serious money into developing end uses for small grains similar to what we have done for corn and soybeans. This would have to be a long-term commitment. I have seen several comments by Sarah Carlson, PFI, on the environmental value of small grains. We need all options on the table.
I agree about small grains research being a very good investment. And from what I’ve read, extended rotations that include small grains might also potentially help control certain weed and invertebrate problems.
The average home owner will put n, p and k on their lawns and gardens at a 10x rate compared to what is done in the country. There is always runoff because the majority have no idea how to schedule irrigation or there is heavy precipitation. The fertilizer runs right down the gutter into the storm sewage system and into the waterways. This tells me that nearly everyone that maintains a lawn or garden is absolutely to blame as well.
I understand your concern about lawns and nitrogen runoff. However I encourage you to take this challenge. Just figure the total acres of urban lawn in a rural county or a state. Figure 100% of all lawns get nitrogen. Figure whatever rate you want for nitrogen application for all of these acres of lawns. Then figure that all 100% of that nitrogen from these lawns runs off directly into the streams and rivers. This calculated nitrogen runoff from lawns (again, worst case scenario) is minor compared to the total nitrogen leaving in our streams and rivers. There is no possible argument that lawns are a major contributor to nitrogen loading in rural landscapes. Yes lawn care needs to improve. In highly urban areas lawn care is a critical element. But in rural landscapes the majority of the nitrogen loading comes from agriculture. We all need to pitch in and quit pointing fingers. Clean water is a public issue, and we all need to accept responsibility for it.
I dont know if I am an average home owner or not. I fertilize but I am on a budget too. I dont want my water running down the street – it cost me a lot of money for that water and the fertilizer that would take off down the street with it.
Here in Ontario we have passed a law that takes phosphorous out of our lawn fertilizer. Now there is a brain dead solution if I ever seen one. If you are not smart enough to purchase flower fertilizer with P in it or do not know a farmer who can get you some phos you find yourself adding more nitrogen and more lawn care pesticides and using even more water to maintain your lawn. Speaking for myself and for my average neighbour – we are part of the problem but we are also responsible water and nutrient managers too.
What? Talk about deflection! Those “environmentalists” are objecting to giving money to farmers for cleaning up the pollution coming from those farmers’ operations. Tax the fossil fuel fertilizers. Reform drainage districts. Look to Nebraska or Minnesota for watershed district templates. You on mainstreet Carroll Iowa, you take care of your own pollution too, as should the farmers take care of their own. Signed, a farm owner from Ida County.
Those who want no tax dollars going toward rural pollutions reduction assistance ought not to be tripping the levers in the restroom as the treatment works for that waste was heavily subsidized.
I have made several attempts to get a residential waste water recycling program going in the city I live in. Other than the toilet water we could easily and affordably recycle all of our other water consumption and it could be utilized for washing our vehicles, buildings, clothes, floors, watering lawns and gardens. The city opposes the suggestion because the reduced water use would severely impact the revenues needed to maintain our water and sewage systems. Economics trumps environmental responsibility and prevents us from making significant impacts with simple changes.
Jim, yes economics often trumps good stewardship regardless of the setting. Thanks for the comment.
Jim, thank you for pointing that out. There has to be a better way of getting that done.
Another way that residents of Iowa towns and cities could help water quality would be to request strong local ordinances to control soil erosion on development areas, with enough funding and staff for enforcement. That’s especially needed in growth areas like Central Iowa. Alas, it’s usually not hard in spring to find eroding construction sites. The badly-placed low mesh fences that are flattened and buried by avalanches of soil deserve bigger penalties than they often get.
I agree that urban construction zones have significant impacts on water quality. We need better protection for urban areas while they are under construction.