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Environmental Balance:
Farming Environmental Management

by John W. Norton, P.E., B.C.E.E.

One might expect to find that farmers apply only the very best environmental management techniques on their farm.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. It is not because the farmer wouldn't like to employ the best practices all the time, but only that he must keep from going out of business. Most farmers use less than desirable practices in order not to lose the farm.

During the period from 1980 to 1995, one could observe farmers cutting down their hedge rows all throughout the Midwest. Why did this happen? The simple answer is that federal farm subsidy programs were cut back about 1980. In particular, the soil banking program was eliminated (where the farmer got paid not to farm part of his land).

The city dweller imagines that under the Soil Bank program, the farmer selected certain fields for not growing crops, but the fact is that the banked acreage was typically long strips of hedgerow along farm fence lines where wildlife would grow and flourish. When the subsidies disappeared, the hedgerows had to go. Otherwise, the farmer couldn't keep up with the competing farmers.

Regulations describing minimum requirements for farms, similar to those that govern the behavior of industries, need to be established. Then the farmer can compete with other farmers following the same rules.

In the case of farming, it hurts double when the neighbor plows a greater percentage of the fields, because the increased crop output lowers the price for all the crops that the other farmers are able to produce. Minimum hedgerows should be mandated.

Another minimum standard should require buffer strips of un-plowed grass, shrubs, and/or trees along creeks, streams, and rivers so that soil, fertilizer and pesticides are not washed directly into the waterway during rains. "Riparian buffers" as thin as 14 feet wide are very effective in stopping not only soil sediment from getting into the streams (by 75%), but effective also at removing such noted waterway pollutants as Nitrogen (by 40%), Phosphorous (by 50%), Trace Metals (60 to 70%), and Hydrocarbons (by 75%) according to an article in the March, 2000, issue of Public Works magazine as reported by Patrick Davis, "" and Ben Hitchings, "".

Pesticide and herbicide practices need to be regulated better. Often, these materials which nearly always meet hazardous waste definitions, come in containers for which the farmer has no good way of disposal. In industry those type "empty" containers must be shipped back to a Hazardous Waste disposal site. Regulations require this of industry, and a "paper trail" of shipping manifests that prove that the containers were properly disposed of, or returned.

On farms, such containers are all too often pitched into the back ravine (an open dump.) What else can the farmer do? This dumping abuse can be seen from a helicopter in almost any rural setting. The author has seen this personally. Perhaps the farmer burns this little dump from time to time to keep it neat. The author has seen that, too.

The farmer's chemical suppliers ought to be required to collect such containers for disposal, and the farmer ought to be mandated to return them.

However well motivated, the farmer needs "an even playing field" to ensure that other farmers don't use shoddy practices to undercut the environmentally sound farmer. Farms need some minimum environmental regulations.

Its the only way that they can all compete fairly and still preserve the environment.

The author's intent is offering the best environmental balance advice available; the user is free to use it, although no guarantee can be implied. All user circumstances are unique and require individual analysis.

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