Agricultural Run-off: What is the best solution?

by abail4 on April 17, 2015 - 8:23pm

                In my last blog posts, I discussed several possible solutions to help stop the serious issue of agricultural nonpoint source pollution issues. Throughout our time on this planet, we have realized more and more that what we do on the land, will eventually affect our waters. I have discussed the option of educating our farmers about their impact on the environment. I have also discussed the option of using financial incentives for the farmer to be more environmentally friendly in their management plan. I have also researched how becoming organic can decrease the amount of pesticides running off the land into our waterways.

                Organic farming is a fairly new trend that has made people start thinking about how their food is grown. Because the use of fertilizers and pesticides cause such huge issues in watersheds, a great solution would be to support farms that do not use these methods in abundance. By supporting local organic farms, we as a community can decrease the demand for products grown in harsh chemicals. By purchasing organic products, visiting local organic farms, and by reducing our purchasing of “prefect” food, we can increase the demand for farms that are growing their products organically. When we walk into the grocery store, we expect perfect produce, like shiny red apples and big juicy strawberries. If the apple had a little bit of bug damage on the outer skin, or had evidence of a worm, we immediately throw the apple back into the pile and pick the more beautiful product. By decreasing our use of pesticides and fertilizers, the fruit and vegetables might not be as beautiful. The skin might have a little damage and the size might not be as impressive, but we would know that harmful chemicals were not used in the growing process. This slight change in the type of food being demanded could greatly increase the number of organic farms in each of our communities.

                Organic farming is a fairly expensive process for the farmer, resulting in a fairly expensive product for the consumers. This is because the amount of organic farmers compared to inorganic farms is much less, resulting in a lower food supply with a high food demand. On top of the increased costs, the organic farming process requires more labor and it is harder to produce as much food on an area of land organically as it is non-organically, (FAO of the UN FAQ).          

                What is absolutely crucial to understand is that a farmer’s land is their income. Some farmers have income coming from all sorts of avenues and they are living a great life. The majority of farmers on the other hand, are struggling to stay above water. Many environmental science students are sitting in their class thinking “Why not tax the farmers? Why don’t they understand that they are affecting our ecosystem? It cannot be that hard to change how a farm runs.” I recently have gained a huge amount of experience working with farmers. Their work never ends. In general, they have a 24 hour job, they do not go on vacations, and they are just trying to put food on the table and support their families. They are going to farm to produce as much profit as possible on the amount of land they have. If you worked long, hard days and you received a very small paycheck at the end of the week, you just might feel a little frustrated. Put yourself in their shoes and how they might feel if someone began telling them how to farm differently and decrease their profit.

                The United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency is all about the farmers that make up this country. They have a program called the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Farmers can voluntarily sign up for this CRP program, signing a contract for a certain period of time. The farmers who sign up for this program have environmentally sensitive land and the Farm Service Agency, teaming up with NRCS, (Natural Resource Conservation Service), develop an appropriate conservation plan for the land. There are tons of different possibilities within the CRP. The farmer will plant/create a long term cover that is resource conserving, erosion controlling, and improves water quality. A couple examples include planting native grasses, planting wildflowers, or even creating wildlife food plots, and the list goes on. By participating in this contract, the Farm Service Agency provides rental payments and cost-share assistance for the installation and seed for the project. Not only does this program provide some financial benefits, the farmer is also providing crucial protection of our natural resources and our environment, (FSA Fact Sheets 2012).

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Organic Agriculture FAQ. Available at: www.fao.org

United State Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency Fact Sheets. 2012. Conservation reserve program- highly erodible land initiative (continuous sign-up). Available at: www.fsa.usda.gov