Recently I came across a very interesting article in the Des Moines Register where an environmental group, Mighty Earth, issued a report demanding Tyson and other agricultural companies produce “pollution-free food.”
The organization examined watershed nitrate levels and grassland conversion with the locations of meat and grain processors, including Tyson, Cargill, Bunge, Smithfield, JBS USA and Archer Daniels Midland Co.
These companies were blamed for everything from grassland clearing in Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas to manure and fertilizer pollution of waterways from the Midwest to the Gulf States.
According to the Register article, Mighty Earth wants Tyson and other meat producers to “ensure all animal feed comes from suppliers” who can verify policies to prevent nutrient losses.
The organization also wants meat producers to include small grains — such as wheat, oats and barley — in animal feed to help farmers diversify the crops they grow, which could improve soil health.
Consumers are certainly more interested than ever in how their food is grown, and that’s something the agricultural industry and farmers will have to continue to address. And there certainly are watershed pollution problems that must be dealt with.
But just as agriculture stopped an unreasonable potential power grab by the EPA with the Clean Water Act, we’re now witnessing an environmental group — from, you guessed it, Washington D.C. — making demands on what farmers grow and how they grow it.
We’ve seen no-tilled acreage in the U.S. grow from a few million acres in 1972 to 96 million in 2012 — all without any requirements or mandates. Adoption of cover cropping has quadrupled since 2010.
I’m sure conservation will be part of the discussion during debate this fall in Congress over the 2018 Farm Bill. To me, history shows that providing incentives to farmers to no-till, seed covers, put CRP acres into grazing instead of row crops, etc., works much better than passing draconian regulations and demands that simply handcuff farmers and rarely ever produce the intended outcome.
With that said, being aware of industry trends that you can’t control is also important. Because there’s really no telling how far these groups will go to get their way — or what stance lawmakers in D.C. will take on farm production from one presidential administration to the next — I will suggest that farmers need to be prepared for scrutiny.
Bowing to public pressure, many companies have already indicated they want to produce a more sustainable product. So the spotlight may eventually swing back from the companies to the farmers they do business with.
Know how much fertilizer you’re applying in your fields, and keep records of it. Take photos and video of the clean water running off your no-tilled field vs. the muddy runoff your neighbor may be producing. If possible, consider tracking nitrate levels in any water leaving your fields and record the data.
Many other farmers are already doing this, even though it’s not required. It’s always better to be prepared.