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Farm News & Views - March 22, 2022

The advent of spring is significant to farmers in the U.S., because it heralds the beginning of a new crop year, and today is National Ag Day. The theme is Agriculture: Growing a Climate for Tomorrow. DTN and Progressive Farmer Magazine are promoting the event by stating, “You may quickly associate the theme with the role that agriculture plays in the environment, particularly its influence on soil, water and air quality. Climate and sustainability have become part of almost any conversation about agriculture.”

But The Clean Water Act at 50, a report by the Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental watchdog founded by former EPA enforcement attorneys, paints a different picture. The report contends that about a half million tons of pesticides, 12 million tons of nitrogen, and 4 million tons of phosphorus fertilizer are applied annually to crops in the continental United States. After the organization evaluated over 700,000 miles of rivers and streams across the country, they concluded that half of those waters are too polluted to fish or swim in, and agriculture is often to blame. Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the organization stated that “This is difficult politically, but we have to confront the fact that agricultural runoff is really the leading cause of water pollution in the U.S. today.” The Clean Water Act, passed 50 years ago, in 1972, largely in response to a fire on the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, Ohio that fed by extreme water pollution, dealt mainly with point source pollution that came from discharge pipes from factories and sewage treatment plants. While those sources of water pollution have mostly been cleaned up, runoff from agricultural fields that carry pesticide residues, nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers and fecal bacteria from animal manure affect water quality throughout the Midwest and beyond. Nitrates affect water treatment facilities, and along with phosphorus encourages the growth of aquatic weeds and algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay for example. The Clean Water Act promised that all waters in the U.S. would be “fishable and swimmable” by 1983. But Environmental Integrity Project report points out that half of the U.S. river and stream miles, 55% of the lake acres, and 25% of the bays and estuaries they evaluated were “impaired,” which means they can’t be safely used for swimming, fishing, drinking water, or other public uses.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza continues to spread across the country, and poultry producers have been culling inflected chickens and turkeys. The numbers of chickens in egg laying flocks is declining, and the lower production is causing increasing egg prices. Last week, the wholesale eggs prices jumped 10 cents to $1.60 a dozen, which is the biggest single-day gain since the onset of Covid-19.

The Senate passed the Sunlight Protection Act last week, and is getting mixed reviews from farmers. While proponents of the bill contend that it will be good for producers who have jobs off farm because they’ll have more daylight after work to complete their chores, but other farmers counter that in the winter, they’ll have to care for their animals in the dark both morning and evenings because of the shorter days.

Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the two.”

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.