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The Seattle Times Editorial Discussion
The May 10 editorial about Whatsupstream and farmer regulation prompted a number of comments. As usual, some of them are simply out of line and do not invite reasonable discussion. But many of the commenters show genuine interest in the issues of farming and the environment. So, let's discuss this.
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We can't label our food to tell if there are GMOs, livestock production uses 1/3 of all fresh water. now the problem is cow poop. The better question is whose agenda is this and what subsidy are they trying to get or protect?
SFF: Dear Just, curious about your statistic about livestock and fresh water use. Could you provide a source? There was an excellent analysis of water use in the US by the Capital Press in their April 15, 2016 edition. It showed biggest user is thermoelectric power at 45.4%. Next was all irrigation withdrawals at 32.5%, and next was domestic and public use at almost 13%.
While ST's editors ponder "Can cow manure be kept out of the state’s waters?", I have a salient question to ask before any serious effort and money is spent by WA taxpayers.
My question is "What are the percentages of manure entering the state''s water from wildlife, pet, human, and livestock?" Only when this question is answered will we have clarity on this dirty topic.
SFF: Dear Def, that’s a good and valuable question and one farmers are working on answering, not because they are trying to shift blame but because it is important that we work with all the groups trying to understand the sources of contamination. There is some good information on the whatcomfamilyfarmers.org website which includes some data on the rapidly growing swan population that visits the farm fields in the winter. In addition to providing a spectacular site enjoyed by so many, they and the ducks and geese with them can turn a grass field into mud in fairly short order, which allows the estimated two pounds of poop a day from a swan to flow more easily into our streams. Some, no doubt, will see that as an effort to shift blame away from farms, but farmers are serious about finding the sources even if it points back to them.
Agriculture must be heavily regulated for clean water. There, solved.
SFF: Dear User, Hmm. That’s interesting. Please go to our page on all the regulations affecting our farmers. Is that not heavy regulation? Yet, we are still talking about this. Not solved.
Gimme a Break!
Always 'more' than 'BETTER'! AgriBusiness pays off our Congressional chumps all the time; everything is SUBSIDIZED, while excess fertilizer, fungicides, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics are overused and polluting our water, impacting people, damaging fish sdytpocks....and yet, AgriBusiness gets export subsidies to export more, driving UP our costs, as our food stocks diminish.
Come on AgriBusiness, you meatheads in Congress EXPLAIN how none of what I'm saying is true!
In Austria, the beer (yes the origin of 'Bud' but very UNLIKE our 'Bud') is wonderful and does not make you sleepy nor in need of a bathroom.
In Italy, where pasta reigns, Americans with glutten issues, find there is NO problem in Italy, and the EU where GMO is a 4 letter word!
If not for you, then think about your children and grandchildren.
SFF: Dear Gimme, we won’t tangle with your description of our distinguished members of Congress but point out that Budweiser is not from Austria. It came from what is now the Czech Republic from the town of Budweis or Budvar. Just for the record.
What's downstream is also a problem, the image of a dead fish, a result of spawning and part of a fish life cycle does nothing to move the conversation forward. For those put off by dairy the answer is simple, stop consuming dairy in all forms, do your part to reduce your dairy footprint. For those who use dairy support farmers who practice environmentally sound land management such as organic dairy's that don't use pesticides or herbicides. And to the issue of manure waste solutions that work and make sense for the farmer and the consumer are available.
SFF: Dear Code, certainly if one objects to the behavior of a business or even an industry one response is to boycott it, even on a personal level. But before swearing off cheese, butter, ice cream, lattes, milkshakes and all those other good things--even milk--perhaps it would be helpful to know the facts about dairies, sustainability and environmental responsibility. We think once you learn a bit more you will be very pleased with how our dairy farmers are working not only to produce great food but to protect our environment. This includes dairies of all types, not just organic dairies.
The recent editorial about agriculture and water contamination only shows that the board has not lived near a large dairy. There is nothing natural about 8,000 dairy cows on too few acres with no grass. There is nothing natural about acres of six foot high stacks of manure. There is nothing natural about air in the neighborhood of a large dairy that has excess ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and particulate matter. The neighbors face contaminated wells, waterways, and air and the owners get profit and considerable political support. In our valley about 60% of the milk product is exported and we are left with the manure. A recent federal court case determined that manure lagoons leak into the aquifer and the owners of the dairies over applied manure to land so that the nitrogen level was 5 times needed for plant growth. This happened despite the dairies getting excellent grades from WA State Department of Agriculture for their environmental practices. They have more manure that they can deal with so they dispose of it by applying it above normal agronomist rates. Yes the industry is scientific and efficient. The industry however is not moral or just. I can say the same for the Seattle Times that supports the industry and ignores the rights of low income and minority people that live near industrial dairies. Shame!!!
SFF: Dear Got,
You seem to be quite knowledgeable about the federal court case. Seems to us it would be better to have a discussion with you without using anonymity. Would you care to discuss this openly?
M from Ferndale
@busdriver You are correct. Regulations regarding dairy production have forced much of the dairy producing community to Eastern Washington where it is easier to meet regulatory requirements. I support the position of the editorial and the management perspective of the State. I believe we need both streams and lakes that support fish and wildlife and a productive dairy industry.
SFF: Not sure we agree with that assessment M. Yes, a number of farmers have moved from Western to Eastern Washington but the state regulations are the same. Perhaps you are referring more to local regulations and certainly parts of Western Washington have stringent local regulations--and getting more stringent all the time. It’s a concern. And yes, we totally agree that we need and can have both healthy streams and fish habitat as well as efficient productive farms that can compete in today’s competitive market.
In 500 years, homo sapiens will have adapted or evolved to survive polluted water for consumption and crops. Cow manure runoff slowly added to water sources will aid in the process. Septic systems, urban runoff, wildlife and forests also put pollutants into lakes, streams and rivers. So, no worries. Don't pick on milk producers. And, President Trump will most likely get rid of the EPA anyway. Let the great, great, great-grandchildren deal with it. The world needs to eat right now.
SFF: We’ll assume a certain level of facetiousness here. But it is true that agriculture, the process of growing food to sustain our lives, communities and cities, has always had an impact on the environment and much of it negative. That’s the challenge that faces today’s feeders of the world. Eliminating or minimizing negative impact is the goal. It takes time. It takes regulation and enforcement. It takes genuine responsible stewardship. Farmers are doing all these things, but “unconvinced” folks like you are needed to support that effort.
Well, it didn't take long after Earth Day for the ST Editorial Board revert to defending the right of polluters to pollute...Washington State's wild salmon populations and animals up the food chain and watershed that dependent on them are endangered. Cows are not.
"Both the state departments of Ecology and Agriculture are involved in safeguarding waterways."
Thanks to the dairy industries clout with the State Legislature, Ecology and Agriculture are "involved," but more like spectators.
SFF: Hello Tracker, we didn’t see in the editorial that they were defending the right of polluters to pollute. We think the headline a bit unfortunate but here is what they said:
“A way must be found to save both the state’s agriculture and the salmon in its waters. Pointing fingers from billboards and the sides of buses as the What’s Upstream? campaign did makes it more difficult to address a complicated issue.”
Would you disagree with that? If we can have both, which we firmly believe, why not?
We’re curious about your statement that Ecology and Agriculture are mere spectators. I think if you ask those farmers, for example, the Sumas berry farmer who just received $20,000 fine from Ecology for allowing manure runoff into streams (note, berry not dairy farm) would not think of them as spectators. Also, with over 3000 inspections by the Department of Agriculture of the state’s 400-some dairy farmers, with 15% of inspections resulting in discharge violations, I don’t think dairy farmers would consider the Department of Agriculture spectators either. Perhaps you could clarify.
"But it's obvious agriculture cannot be sacrificed for clean water."
And no credible person is suggesting that agriculture be sacrificed for clean water. Just that the agricultural industry, like other industries, use practices to control pollution.
By set up this false choice, and right in the headline, the Seattle Times editorial board diminishes its credibility.
SFF: We agree David. It’s a false dichotomy. We can have both and the tremendous progress made in water quality improvements demonstrated by the Department of Ecology reports in Whatcom County make it clear it is possible. We encourage you to look closer at all the regulations, enforcement and most importantly, documented improvement.
Big agriculture is a world away from the vision most people have of dairy farms. Consider the phrase "million gallon manure lagoon." If that is not disgusting enough, drive through Lynden sometime & watch the sprinklers spraying brown streams of cows*** into the air. Lots of that runs off into streams and contaminates groundwater. There is a huge difference between "sacrificing" agriculture and making farms control their pollution. All people are saying is that farmers should not get a pass to pollute. We don't have unlimited supplies of groundwater and nitrate pollution needs to stop. We also need to protect our shellfish beds (they are at the end of the stream of polluted runoff).
SFF: Dan, first we’re not sure when the last time you have been to Lynden but it will be very difficult to find very many of those sprinklers spraying brown streams as you suggest. Most farms have gone to more efficient and more precise methods of applying organic nutrients (cow***). These include direct applications using pans behind tractors some with attached aerators so more of the manure goes into the ground helping prevent runoff. Some inject in the ground with a disc. The transition away from the gun sprayers is an example of new technology continually being introduced partly because of regulations and enforcement and partly out of good stewardship.
Sorry you are disgusted with the idea of a million gallons of manure in a pond or lagoon. To environmental scientists and farmers, these lagoons are an essential part of protecting our water as they allow farmers to store the nutrients until it is safe to apply them. Totally agree about pollution needing to stop. Great progress has been made as water quality studies make clear (See Solving the Water Quality Puzzle) but more needs to be and is being done. That is also true of all sources of pollution and we don’t think it fair or appropriate to single out farmers as the only ones needing change when it is likely they are doing more than just about anyone else.