Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Raping The Land?

I have my own opinions on this subject and that's one reason I've written 1804 stories, a blog nearly every day the past five years.

"CORYDON, Iowa – The hills of southern Iowa bear the scars of America’s push for green energy: The brown gashes where rain washed away the soil. The polluted streams that dump fertilizer into the water supply.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

With the Iowa political caucuses on the horizon in 2007, presidential candidate Barack Obama made homegrown corn a centerpiece of his plan to slow global warming. When President George W. Bush signed a law that year requiring oil companies to add billions of gallons of ethanol to their gasoline each year, Bush predicted it would make the country “stronger, cleaner and more secure.”
But the ethanol era has proved far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today.

As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and contaminated water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.
Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have been converted.

Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil. Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t survive.

In South Dakota, for instance, farmers planted 1.3 million more acres of corn last year than they did the year before the ethanol mandate was passed. More than 400,000 acres of conservation land were lost."

We have the tools now to keep this from happening without banning corn based ethanol.  Corydon, Iowa is a great place to no-till and cover cropping is catching on.  Dakota Lakes Research Farm has been a leader in crop rotation and no-till practices for over 20 years.

The market place always has final say on planted acres and intentions.  If it looks like a farmer can make a profit on a crop, they plant it.  Most farmers are going to plant something on their land, the prices and programs swing acres one way or the other.

Still, our yield levels are pretty flat the past five or more years.  We have the technology to farm "marginal acres" well.

Are we doing that?  Will we do it?

Ed Winkle


  1. Ed...
    Perhaps this is an odd opinion but it is what I have observed over the years.
    Human greed must be tempered with a strong belief system.
    Or perhaps just the self discipline to see ten years ahead.
    But, it doesn't really seem to work.
    We talk about the mechanics of farming. No-till, conservation tillage, rotations, and so on. But, there is more to it.
    We claim that we are farming to feed the world.
    Actually, we are farming to make a buck. So... if you can level a hundred acres, remove all those pesky fence rows fill in the wetland in the corner and use grid mapping and gps along with variable rate applications to farm the whole field as one then of course if makes fiscal sense to do it.
    If you do go the more expensive route of "conservation tillage" then eventually some smart young farmer will come in and offer more money rent and get the ground away from you. Then farm it intensely for a few years and mine the soil, and then get a government grant to "rehabilitate" it.
    It is our human nature to do this and without a common belief system to temper our greed, just following the market puts the human race into boom and bust cycles.
    Which is not to say I'm a socialist.

  2. Thanks to you both. So Budde, do you really think that article is true? Just because someone comes in and offers more money, do you think they are "raping" it? Even the rented land is pretty well taken care of in my experience though few people seem willing to feed the soil like I do. I've never rented a piece of land I didn't think I improved but I don't think any of it is what I would call "raped."


  3. The article is written to make people angry at production agriculture. So they use words like "rape," and "pristine prairies." But, yes, marginal land is being farmed which probably shouldn't be farmed. Just because someone offers more money doesn't mean they are raping the ground but most certainly they will rape you if they get the chance. Of course like any good christian businessman they will tell you it is for your own good.

  4. They are spinning the story for sensation and to fit their adgenda. I don't know if the numbers they quote are right or not, I don't trust the news media to get it right. The "pristine prairies" the talk about were ploughed up a hundred years ago or more. What was planted to corn was likely Conservation Reserve Program acres where the contract term was finished and they were taken out of the program instead of renewing the contract. No one plants corn or any crop because the president says too. Farmers planted corn because it was profitable, maybe ethanol demand was part to the reason for increased demand and higher prices for corn. I would expect farmers in Iowa who want to keep farming more than one year would use conservation tillage and proper fertilizer rates. Fertilizer is too expensive to send down the river to the Gulf. You can always find an erosion failure for a graphic picture, but is it typical? Was there really that much envioromental destruction or are they just reciting an old cliche from 1980 about farming causing erosion and fertilizer runoff? Let the people who make their living off the land decide the best use for it.

  5. Agreed. So how do we get the message out that some of us are doing the best we can do leave the soil better than we found it? I can sleep knowing I am doing all that I can. Profit is important to me but not at the expense of the condition of my soil. My soil is my most precious resource.

    Farm Bureau can't do it and all the organizations in the world can't do it because the fact is less than 2% of us farm the land and you and I are a small minority of that group. The Internet can help but probably has done more harm than good by stirring up ideas like the one in this piece.

    My little blog sure can't conquer these notions. How do we do a better job of telling exactly what we are doing right?

    Does the fact that 90% of corn and soybean production in the states is genetically modified help our position?

    I don't think so.