Sunday, February 20, 2011

Farm Bureau and the Chesapeake - good steward of the land?

I read with dismay the Frederick News Post’s January 23rd article announcing the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) lawsuit to block EPA’s plan to restore the Chesapeake Bay. The Farm Burea’s plan: to continue the status quo of voluntary, non-binding best management practices (BMPs), that after 26 years of implementation have resulted in a watershed that only scores a 31 out of 100 in the 2010 State of the Bay report.

What does AFBA’s action say? It illustrates how closely the organization has aligned itself with industrial agriculture and at the same time alienated both consumers of their products and the sustainable agriculture community. As a farmer it is disheartening to see the Farm Bureau distort the facts and stand by industrial farms thereby soiling the reputation of the rest of the agriculture community. The thrust of AFBA’s lawsuit challenges the scientific validity of EPA’s pollution diet. You can tweak the input parameters in EPA’s complex model all you want, but the story won’t change: agriculture is a major contributor of damaging nutrients and agriculture needs to do more.

All you have to do is take a drive in the country to see examples of farms that are not doing their fair share to reduce runoff of nutrients from their fields. This is a good time of year to see barren fields without any green winter cover crop. You can also see some farmers spreading manure on frozen ground. Come spring, the drainage ditches around those fields will run orange/brown, transporting sediments laden with nutrients into the Bay. When summer arrives, take another drive in the country and you’ll likely come across cows standing in streams. Unfortunately, they don’t hold it like humans in a swimming pool would. You’ll also notice some crops growing right next to stream banks with no buffer strips. Buffer strips filter the flow of nutrients into the Bay.

In October of 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a draft report on the “Assessment of the Effects of Conservation Practices on Cultivated Cropland in the Chesapeake Region.” This exhaustive report represents the most comprehensive evaluation to date of farm activities as they relate to nutrient loadings to the Bay. This study found that “81 percent of the cultivated cropland acres require additional nutrient management to reduce the loss of nitrogen or phosphorus from fields.” In other words, farmers are implementing all the recommended, voluntary best management practices for only 19% of cropland. Only 1 in 5 acres is being managed responsibly. This is not what I would call “good stewardship” of the land.

I am a farmer in Frederick County, Maryland. Our farm is bordered by a tributary on two sides, which feeds any runoff into the Monocacy, the Potomac, and finally the Bay. Our watershed is one of many in the region that are exceeding water quality standards for nutrients. We have been implementing all the voluntary BMPs recommended by the MD Department of Environment. Although there is some financial and technical assistance from the state, implementing these BMPs still cost us in time, money and some land is taken out of production. We view it as the cost of doing business. All the organic and sustainable farms I know follow similar practices, but then again, we aren’t members of the Farm Bureau.

Editorial Section, Frederick News Post, Sunday, by William.