Play it Conservative
by Art Cullen (The Storm Lake Times) … Markets and Nature are so large, and the Iowa budget is so small. We would be better off to leave water quality funding — that is, writing a big fat check to farm landowners tied into the agri-chemical supply chain — where it is until we figure out where those big forces are taking us.
Land use will change when markets demand it or Nature forces it. Both are in play as we shop for seed and chemicals amid the basketball games on TV. Markets are demanding less corn, given its price. They demand less ethanol, and will demand less yet as the auto fleet goes electric. We are losing soil at a rate four times faster than it can be regenerated. It is at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, where a dead zone grows every year despite Iowa’s remedial machinations. Nature is foiling glyphosate and Bt corn as it adapts to our genetic engineering; large-scale commercial farmers are beginning to question the value of seed premiums that are not paying off in yields or price. More hogs are moving into Iowa to compete for corn, or so it would appear. Just how is Iowa’s water quality probe going to affect all those dynamics? It won’t, plain and simple. It hasn’t.
Federal policy could make a difference. It was the Renewable Fuels Standard coming on that caused the corn market bubble in 2008 that drove Iowans to plow up those acres in grass for corn and soybeans. Tinkering with the RFS is likely to have more effect on nitrate than 3,000 bioreactors. Forbidding crop insurance in flood-prone areas and on hills would be a start. The simple fact is that we have to reduce corn acreage by about a third to eliminate the nitrate (and phosphorous) pollution in our surface water. If you do that, you solve the most serious problem Iowa faces: soil loss that has been growing with extreme weather since 1980.
Iowa farmers are figuring it out. They are more interested than ever in sustainable or even regenerative agriculture. They know how important livestock are to our landscape. They never have liked “working the program” to make their profit. Cover crops are increasing. We are not breaking up the filter strips like we were. It is good that we are paying attention to Cedar Creek, a drainage ditch with nary a blade of grass next to it. Storm Lake’s watershed can put free money to creative use, we are sure. Storm Lake is a leader in the Midwest. It’s just that it will not solve the problems we have with too much corn and fertilizer, not enough cattle and farmers locked in to a chemical and seed complex which they know does not necessarily represent their interests in on-farm profitability and sustainability. Markets and Nature, with a responsible farm bill, will be all the prompt farmers need. READ MORE