The latest data basically gives farmer documentation for what we already knew… growers are doing more with less; less land, less water, less crop inputs from pesticides to fertilizer, and all the while getting gonzo increases in productivity of crops like corn.
This was the very reason corn growers created the Corn Farmers Coalition (CFC) last year; to bridge the large gap between what consumers don’t know or think they know and the reality of modern, innovative farming. In the case of CFC the idea was to start small by educating decision leaders in Washington, DC because of the enormous impact Congress and other federal agencies can have on farmers either legislatively or through regulation.
Now NRCS gives us a well-deserved “A” on our environmental report card. This is a story worth telling, especially given the misleading information being spewed by some agenda driven groups. So, look for opportunities to speak up for your farm; Do it locally, tell your story online through social media, tell your elected officials. We all have a vested interest in getting this right.
The Farm Bureau and the corn growers would like members of Congress and their constituents to believe that everything is fine with the soil and water in the Midwest, with good reason: Awareness that agribusiness practices are wreaking environmental havoc would erode taxpayer willingness to continue subsidizing these practices and would invite calls for regulation of an industry that largely escapes government oversight.
For instance, non-point source pollution–nitrates and phosphates from fertilizers slathered on farm fields to squeeze out every possible bushel–is subject to no regulation at all under the Clean Water Act. Excessive pesticide spraying over water sources is enforced by nothing more than a label on the pesticide container, and water utilities must bear most of the work and expense of removing toxic farm chemicals and other pollutants from tap water.
Still, there is good news in Losing Ground. The report reminds us that common sense and traditional conservation practices work. As much as 97 percent of soil loss is preventable by simple measures like planting strips of grass or trees on the edges of crop fields and along streams and the contours of hills. These practices also help limit the damage from chemicals that run off fields and into water sources. Our aerial survey revealed that some, but not nearly enough, farmers are using these and other practices to protect our soil and water. These conservation-mined farmers are living proof that profitable farming doesn’t have to come at the expense of our natural resources.
Unfortunately, however, most of the federal conservation programs that help farmers implement these practices are slated to lose funding–what looks like a $356 million cut from last year–in the current frenzy of budget cutting. And this isn’t their first visit to the chopping block. State programs aren’t faring any better.
Moreover, these programs have never been robust enough to compete with the pressure that subsidies and incentives put on America’s soil and water. Between 1997 and 2009, the government paid Corn Belt farmers $51.2 billion in subsidies to spur production, but just $7 billion to implement conservation practices. The $18.9 billion spent to subsidize the corn ethanol industry rubs salt in the wound.
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