A previous post entitled Dairy Air created some healthy conversation about the amount of manure being produced by the dairy CAFOs in the county and spread over much of the land. What we didn’t explore in that post was the content of the slurry being spread on or injected into the soil. Recently, a reader brought details about that aspect into this discussion and then made the connection to the broader topic of sustainable agriculture. It’s interesting to see how these conversations evolve. If you don’t follow the stream of information, you might be missing something.
I would like to respond to Concerned Neighbor’s points above about manure and CAFOs.
Point 1: It would be great if liquid manure only consisted of nitrogen… unfortunately it does not. Liquid manure not only contains manure, but also antibiotics, hormones (BGH), steroids, chemical wormers, barn cleaners, copper sulfate, etc. This is then stored in manure pits containing millions of gallons. This anaerobic storage- along with all of the chemicals and antibiotics- have now killed off all of the microbes and enzymes that made manure bio-available for plants to uptake. On top of all this, we use glyphosate[roundup] resistant GM crops, that Dr. Don Huber of Purdue University has shown will take up 60-70% less nutrients then a conventional crop. So this is definitely NOT like fertilizing your lawn.
Point 2: You are right- this is about surviving agriculture- unfortunately the current system won’t work. Sustainable agriculture uses ecological practices that minimize the need for synthetic inputs and maximize stewardship of resources. Sustainability does not impede on future generations ability to produce, or the health or availability of their natural resources. The recently released Rodale Institute 30-year farming system trial comparing organic vs conventional states:
• Organic yields match conventional;
• Organic produces better than conventional during drought conditions;
• Organic farming systems build organic matter making them more sustainable;
• Organic uses 45% less energy;
• Conventional produces 40% more green house gases;
• Organic farming is more profitable.
I will concede organic food costs more at the store, but what we have to remember is that with organics we only pay once. For the majority of all conventional foods you have already paid for it once before you ever go to the store. Kewaunee County farmers received $8,979,000 in subsides in 2009, which means that each man, woman, and child in Kewaunee County paid $417 in taxes for their food… then they still had to go to the store to buy it. What we don’t have to worry about with locally grown organic foods is our food being shipped overseas and not grown at home. There were only a handful of community gardens in 1970, today there is over 18,000… and 7,000 farmers’ markets, with the fastest growing segment in agriculture being grass fed livestock production.
Point 3: Self regulation is the flavor of the day. The CAFOs have the most regulation– but the least enforcement. When there is only one DNR employee covering 6 counties- spot checks are non-existent. If these checks do occur, it’s not on the rented land, and watching how many gallons are applied; it’s in the office checking the books. The larger these farms have gotten, the fewer local businesses are left to support our families and our small family farms. It is reported that a 5,000-cow dairy employs 80 people. That same 5,000 cows- put back on to 45-cow dairies like when I was a kid- would employ 111 people, with only 1 person per farm. Many of those 45-cow farms supported 3 generations. Those same farms would also need a full set of equipment, plus all of the hardware, supplies, feed mills, doctors, dentists, grocery stores etc, to support their families. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a revitalization of our towns here in Kewaunee County? My belief is that CAFO’S are not here to stay, and that they do more harm than good. Consumer awareness of the need for nutrient-dense food (health care), along with beliefs that animal husbandry/humane treatment of animals is important, that our finite natural resources are worth protecting, are all reasons which will be stumbling blocks to the industrial farm model. The real nail in the coffin though, will be rising fuel costs, the fact we have already surpassed peak oil, and the public’s growing disgust of the mega subsidies to huge agribusiness entities.