Flush out the truth

May 26, 2009

Conservation LakeTwitter gives its users 140 characters to tell a story, and You Tube videos are only effective if they’re 45 seconds or shorter, according to the company’s Creative Innovationist. Why? Today’s news seekers demand quick-hitting answers. We want to know that there’s a clear-cut problem and a simple solution, as long as the solution doesn’t inconvenience us. Tell us who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy, and don’t hassle us with too many details.

But as famed journalist William Feather once said, “beware of the man who won’t be bothered by details.” Understanding the particulars is crucial when it comes to complex issues like water quality protection. That doesn’t stop animal and environmental activists from blaming almost all of Iowa’s water quality issues on modern agriculture. But blaming water pollution on farming oversimplifies the issue. And, because only three percent of Iowa’s population farms, activists know they won’t upset the average Joe by claiming that only farmers are to blame.

Protecting our water isn’t accomplished by a snappy one-liner or sound bite, and focusing on one industry while ignoring the rest won’t get the job done either. In fact, the number of reported municipal releases over the past two years is nearly 15 times greater than the number of manure releases that have had an impact on surface water according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources data (http://www.iowadnr.gov/). There have been at least 361 municipal discharges of 87.6 million total gallons since January 2007, and that figure doesn’t even include the sewage discharges resulting from excess rainfall, an “act of God” or the nearly 700 unsewered communities across Iowa. Yuck!

Municipal discharges aren’t the only urban threats to our water. There are storm water runoff pollution threats in every watershed in Iowa and across the country. Just ask the EPA (http://www.epa.gov/weatherchannel/stormwater.html). Excessively applied fertilizer on lawns and golf courses often ends up washing away, and impervious surfaces – including roads and parking lots – carry everything from motor oil and pet waste to cigarette butts into our streams.

Can agriculture play a part in improving Iowa’s water quality? Absolutely, and farmers today have invested in protective buffer strips that filter sediment. Iowa leads the nation in acres devoted to buffer strips. Iowa farmers have also enrolled over 80,000 acres of former cropland in the Wetland Reserve Program, ranking eighth in the nation. Wetlands protect towns and cities against storm surges and buffer coastal areas from erosion. And the Conservation Technology Information Center (http://www.ctic.purdue.edu/) recently announced that Iowa farmers used soil-saving conservation tillage on more than a million additional acres – an 8.5 percent increase – in 2007 (the most recent data available).

Responsible farmers understand that improving our state’s water quality requires an unwavering commitment. They continue to add conservation structures and repair those damaged by last year’s flooding. Those efforts will be better coordinated by the establishment of a Water Resources Coordinating Council, established by the Iowa State Legislature to coordinate water quality issues. “Iowa has the structure in place to devise the plan and set priorities,” says Iowa Farm Bureau environmental advisor Rick Robinson. “The sooner they get a game plan together, the sooner we make progress.” That will require a collective effort and some attention to detail.

Written by Zach Bader
Zach is a Communications Specialist for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Discovering Iowa

May 22, 2009

Scenic Dairy FarmTwo-thousand-450 miles—that’s how far I traveled in the last 10 days. I could’ve driven to San Francisco or Miami (with miles to spare) or for that matter, gone three-quarters of the way to Anchorage.  But, no; I wanted to see Iowa from the road.  To be more specific—I wanted to see northern Iowa.

Northern Iowa—home to rolling hills so green this time of year that the intensity of color almost makes you wince; northern Iowa–home to vast woods, wildlife, winding rivers, terraced farm fields, friendly waves from farmers in tractors, hearty meals (for under $5!) and homemade rhubarb pie so good one bite will melt away memories of rush hour traffic and stacked-up Inboxes.  I was traveling through a dozen towns in northern Iowa to meet with farmers, newspaper and radio reporters; but I was also making a mental note to take a fresh look at the state I’ve called home for decades. 

I liked what I saw.  And, if you’ve spent most of your time in the ‘burbs’ of Iowa—you’d find plenty to like, too.   

So, stop listening to crabby nay-sayers who roll their eyes and crow that rural Iowa is dead.  Stop believing people who say “there’s nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to see” in Iowa.  And most-importantly, start questioning folks who say all of rural Iowa stinks because of livestock.  I saw livestock of every kind in every county (even goats and lamas!).  Contrary to what some may write; on the days of this Iowa Road Trip; the air smelled of mowed grass, lilacs, dusty roads and the faraway sweet scent of fired-up barbeque grills.

Folks opposed or concerned about modern livestock farms too often pen articles without ever setting a foot, much less a tire, in rural Iowa.  I counted 47 livestock confinement farms and I know there were many more.  There were dozens of open-feedlot livestock farms, too.  But even with the windows down—I could smell the open feedlots but not the confinement barns.  I know it was just two days out of 10.  And, having grown up on a livestock farm (open feedlot) there’s no doubt about it; once the manure is moved it can smell. 

I want to tell folks about the good things of rural Iowa and livestock, because I’ve seen how negative thoughts and criticisms are passed from one person to another—simply because it’s easier to re-tell, than discover the answer for oneself.  I think it’s safe to say that modern farms, if they’re managed responsibly, don’t smell the majority of time.  But don’t take my word for it: 

(Check this out: http://www.4cleanair.org/Documents/IowaAFOstudy.pdf )

The reality is; since we have more people than ever to feed in this world and economic times are tough; we need modern livestock production.

So before you turn up your nose (literally) at livestock farmers or rural Iowa, I hope you take the time to actually drive the countryside and soak up the beauty of the season.  You’ve got a long weekend to take it all in—and I guarantee you can have a great time for a lot less by staying in any one of the hundreds of B&B’s across rural Iowa.  Most of all, I hope you give rural Iowans a chance to show their hospitality.   Check out local cafes—the kinds that have local farmers, businessmen, moms and retirees lining the counters, happy to chat about anything-ranging from the weather to parenting to Dancing With the Stars–expect them to fuss over you until you order a slice of their homemade pie, (I’d recommend the rhubarb.)

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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