Industrial Ag...A One Track Mind

“…Agri-industrialists run cotton factories or sugar factories or grain factories or meet factories or milk factories or egg factories. These factories have four outstanding characteristics:

- They depend entirely on industrial machinery and chemicals.
- They depend entirely on cheap fossil fuel, which is why they are temporary. While they still depend upon them, they are already relics.
- They treat organisms (this is to say creatures: plants and animals, living beings) as machines.
- They are highly specialized.

Animal factories do not grow plants. Plants factories don not grow animals. Animal factories produce, in additional to meat, manure – which far from the cropland where the feed is produced, becomes a dangerous pollutant. Plant factories, having no animals and therefore no manure and therefore lacking in health, are dependent on large quantities of fertilizers and other chemicals, which are dangerous pollutants.

But the most dangerous pollutant issuing from the agri-industrial enterprise is the radically oversimplified agri-industrial mind. This mind assumes that it is all right to produce stuff by using up stuff, that it is all right to “externalize” all ecological and social costs, that health is never an issue except when and if regulations are enforced by government and that all relationships and connections, causes and effects, are somebody else’s business…”

Wendell Berry
Being Kind to the Land
Progressive: February 2009


Iowa’s factory farms smell toxic

My family took a vacation in Iowa. The rolling hills and views were stupendous, the air was toxic. We had to keep car windows rolled up. When I wanted to roll down the windows my kids would beg “No! Please mom!” We tried, but then factory farm buildings would be in the distance, or we would smell factory farm stench without ever seeing them, my kids would scream, “Roll up the windows, hurry, mom!”

What should have been an enjoyable vacation turned into a look-out for factory farm buildings, that’s what my sons will remember most.
Now I hear the Iowa DNR is considering approving a construction permit to build Iowa’s largest cattle factory farm in Scott County. Great goodness what is DNR Director Rich Leopold thinking? He knows how devastating factory farms are to the water and land.

Iowa DNR’s mission is to protect water and land. Nothing supersedes this mandate! Not the promise of jobs or green-washing or cheaper food.

If built, this 9,500-head cattle factory farm will consume over 200,000 gallons of water a day and produce over 11 million gallons of toxic manure a year. With over 700 manure spills and a growing list of impaired waterways in Iowa, it’s too dangerous to allow construction of a giant cattle factory farm in the already impaired Mud Creek, Wapsipinicon and Mississippi River watersheds. I hope to vacation in Iowa again with the windows down. I hope the Iowa DNR will deny this cattle factory farm a construction permit.

Rachel Griffiths
Letter to the editor
Quad City Times


Experts predict little robots will roam the fields

“I think farms in general are going to get larger, I don’t think there is any question that to keep up economically, the 30-cow herd and running cash crops on a few acres just doesn’t cut it anymore. Farms are going to have to get larger. I am not saying factory farms, or anything like that. It will be family farms.”

Dick Wolkowski
UW Extension Service

"RIVER FALLS, Wis. — Agriculture of the future will be “Star Trek” meets “Green Acres.”

Experts predict that within 25 years little robots will roam fields zapping weeds, testing soil and turning plant genes on and off to fit the conditions, a bit like mechanical helpers on the starship Enterprise. At the same time, some Americans will continue to feel a need to work the land, and smell the soil, while bouncing up and down on a tractor seat, as Oliver Wendell Douglas did on the farm comedy.

Farmers in recent years have embraced global positioning systems to better grow crops. They use computers and satellites better than many of the country’s biggest corporations. Dairy farmers are beginning to use robotic milking machines..."

Read more at the Grand Forks Herald.


It Just Ain't Natural

"...On a factory farm, nature is too likely to be an adversary of the farmer, because such a farm is too much an adversary of nature. Nature responds with diseases, weeds, pests, and gullies which, in the process of damaging or destroying the farmer, enrich the suppliers of chemicals, machinery, fuel and credit. Only with grass, with pastures, can nature enter farming fairly dependably as an ally of the farmer..."

Wendell Berry


Make Farming More Sustainable

"If farmers are going to meet future demands, the U.S. agriculture system has to evolve to become sustainable and think broadly — past the bottom line of producing the most possible."

Julia Kornegay
Department of Horticultural Science
North Carolina State University

"CHAMPAIGN, Ill.— American farmers are producing more food than ever, but agricultural research is too focused on increasing production and needs to do better at considering consequences such as water and air pollution, according to a report issued Tuesday by a federal advisory group.

The National Academies' National Research Council report found that farmers are being asked to produce more and more food to sustain the world's population, but with little focus beyond how many bushels of grain or pounds of vegetables or meat they can generate..."

Read more at US News.


Pierce County Farm Technology Days July 20-22, 2010

Wisconsin Farm Technology Days is the largest agriculture exposition in Wisconsin--a three-day outdoor event that showcases the latest improvements in production agriculture. Each year, it is held in a different Wisconsin county--on a different host family farm.
Click here for a schedule and more info.


Legislators Favor Campaign Contributors Over Safe Water

Madison - A proposal to reduce incidents of drinking water being polluted by manure was rejected by legislators because a small group of large agribusiness interests, who complained the rules were too strict, have spent nearly $916,000 on legislative elections since 2000, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign says.
The proposal, which was rejected at an August 3 hearing by the Senate and Assembly Agriculture committees, would have regulated manure spreading by the state’s 150 large factory farms that have 700 or more animals. The spreading of large amounts of animal waste, particularly on frozen ground, has been the source of more than four dozen incidents of well contamination and fish kills over the past two years.

One incident seriously sickened a Luxemburg family with three small children. In another case earlier this year, animal waste was blamed for contaminating more than six dozen wells in the Brown County Town of Morrison so badly that some residents said their tap water smelled like manure. The state is paying tens of thousands of dollars to help residents dig new wells, but environmentalists argue the new wells could be polluted in a short time without regulations to control future manure spreading...

Read more about “Here’s manure in your water” at Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.


Dane County Helps Farm Grow Herd

"An economic development loan from Dane County and the Wisconsin Department of Commerce will help a dairy farm in the Town of Vienna expand, County Executive Kathleen Falk announced today. The $175,000 loan ($87,500 each from Dane County’s Revolving Loan Fund for Economic Development and the State Department of Commerce) will help the White Gold Dairy purchase 350 new cows.

“Our county is not only the fastest growing by population in the state, but it’s also among the top counties in milk production,” County Executive Kathleen Falk said. “Agriculture is a $3-billion dollar a year part of our county’s economy and it’s important we help farmers continue to do what they do best - put the highest quality products on our kitchen tables.”

To accommodate the new cows, the farm is planning an expansion including construction of a new 350 cow free stall barn and adding more stalls in their milking parlor. The farm will also construct a new nine-million gallon lagoon and a 60x125 foot bunker silo with runoff controls. The total cost of the expansion is around $2.4 million.

In addition to construction laborers, the expansion will add four new permanent jobs at the farm to help with milking the additional cows..."

Read more at WisBusiness.


Farmers Face a Big Stinking Mess

According to the EPA, "Wastes from large factory farms are among the greatest threats to our nation's waters and drinking water supplies."

There's nothing new here. Here is some historical perspective on the issues with manure runoff.

"...Tons of manure are stored outdoors to be used eventually for fertilizer. Not only does the stuff seep into water supplies, it also smells horrible. (One Minnesota tax assessor factors in a property's proximity to CAFOs when setting market values--locals have dubbed it the "smell-location chart.")..."

Read more at Fortune.


Dairy Farm Manure Spill Threatens Environment and Public Health

A manure lagoon in an upstate New York dairy farm burst, creating an environmental disaster and killing hundreds of thousands of fish in nearby Black River. The spill occurred when one of the earthen walls in a manure lagoon on the property collapsed, depositing 3 million gallons of liquid manure into the river.

"...Even without a manure spill, factory farm excrement can poison the water. The intensive confinement of thousands to hundreds of thousands of animals results in quantities of manure that often exceed the soil's absorption rate. When the soil is saturated with higher levels of nutrients than can be absorbed, the result is runoff leading to potentially serious ground and water pollution.

Runoff that reaches the water can cause eutrophication, in which an increase in mineral and organic nutrients depletes the water of oxygen. The ensuing overgrowth of algae and other marine plants competes with fish for oxygen, creating an environment in which plant life thrives while animal life suffers.

Factory farm animal manure also threatens air quality. During decomposition, noxious levels of gases, such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, are emitted, putting workers and nearby residents at risk of developing a number of acute and chronic illnesses. Studies have shown that those who live near factory farms are more likely to suffer from a range of medical problems, including diarrhea, sore throat, cough, chest tightness, nasal congestion, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, sudden fatigue, headaches, nausea, sudden loss of consciousness, comas, seizures, and, ultimately, even death..."

Read more of Marks Dairy Farm Manure Spill Threatens Environment and Public Health at the Humane Society.

CAFOs need to go beyond historic solutions for manure management

by David Bossman

Let’s not make any bones about it: We have a critical need to solve what is becoming a manure crisis in America. I’d like to show that by solving this problem, we can save America by restoring the economic viability of our rural communities.

America’s rural communities are becoming increasingly inhospitable toward livestock production. As a result, more and more of our nation’s meat, milk and egg producers are seeking communities that value and welcome them, instead of resisting their growth and income-producing potential.

We all know that there has been significant movement in animal production in the past 10 years. Many state and local zoning restrictions now prohibit the construction or expansion of Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). The result is that this not only increases the CAFO size in the areas which accept them, but it also threatens the entire US animal feeding industry because many foreign countries are aggressively pursuing large-scale animal production.

CAFOs have a poor public perception. They are viewed as a factory-type of feeding, implying poor animal well-being practices. They are perceived—and I emphasize the term perceived—to be large corporate ownerships, instead of family-based farms, that use poor animal husbandry, thereby causing the use of high levels of antibiotics. And, finally, they are seen to produce large amounts of animal manure with unpleasant odor.

At this point, the historical solutions are no longer acceptable or applicable. CAFOs have too much manure to spread as fertilizer on neighboring land, and spreading manure can exacerbate the odor perception problem. And with today’s rural population becoming less and less involved in agriculture, the neighbors are no longer part of the animal production tradition.

Animal production operations have evolved in size and scope, from small family farms to the very large producers of today. CAFOs, an entirely new animal agriculture entity, have significantly impacted the method of animal protein production. Livestock production is frequently unprofitable unless a significant volume of scale can be achieved.

High volume, efficient producers are faced with numerous local, state and federal rules and mounting negative community attitudes. The overwhelming reason rural dwellers do not want livestock production in their communities is the odor from the manure. Yes, it smells, and in large volumes it can smell an awful lot!

Most of manure research has been in the area of fertilizer utilization even though using manure for fertilizer can exacerbate the odor situation within the community. There have been numerous research projects related to animal waste or manure. Land grant universities have built entire departments researching animal manure. Most of the research has focused on determining the effectiveness or value that manure has for fertilizer or plant food, or simply how to dispose of it as a solid waste. Research also has been conducted to determine the nutritional value of manure to be used as livestock feed.

A lot of research has been done regarding the use of lagoons to store manure. A significant body of research also has been conducted for odor control in various ways, including adding chemicals and blending. That said, however, the problem is getting worse instead of better.

Everyone in the ag industry should know the problems of animal manure and even the reasons why the problem exists. Now we must focus on the solutions. The solutions aren’t all that hard to identify; we know that if all manure had the odor of freshly baked bread, the problem would not exist. The negative attitudes toward high density animal production would disappear. However, there is little chance that even the best researchers could make that happen. So we need new solutions.

Animal nutritionists are finding, and will continue to find the perfect diet, one that will maintain maximum production or growth with little or no waste. That, too, is some years away. Therefore our challenge, your challenge, is to make the existing animal waste more transportable, less odor offensive and to find high
value uses.

Technology has created changes in animal agriculture. It gave us mechanical technology which allowed larger operations to operate at lower cost. Technology also improved genetics, allowing faster and more efficient growth. Technology also afforded superior animal nutrition, which enhances genetics. It is now time for technology to solve one of the critical problems it has also created. Because CAFOs are the lowest cost animal production method, technology has to solve the CAFO problem of too much manure in too small a space.

Examples of new applied technology include using manure as industrial feedstock for production of geo-textiles and geo-plastics or industrial adhesives. These uses will improve the environment by keeping manure off ground water.

Finding non-fertilizer uses for animal waste is critical to the continued long-term animal protein production in the United States. We’ll look at some of these other uses in the next issue of Manure Manager.

David Bossman is past president of the American Feed Industry Association.

Source: Manure Manager


Appeals Court Strikes Down Conditions for Megafarm

"The decision leaves residents at the mercy of industrialized farms."

June 28, 2010
MADISON — A south-central Wisconsin town overstepped when local officials imposed water quality conditions on a giant farm's permit, a state appeals court ruled last week.

Larson Acres Inc., had asked the Town of Magnolia in Rock County for permission to expand operations to 1,500 animal units, according to the opinion. A thousand animal units is equivalent to about 700 cows.

The town granted a permit but included conditions requiring the farm to minimize nutrient run-off and allow well water tests.

A state review board invalidated the conditions, but Rock County Circuit Judge James Welker upheld them.

The 4th District Court of Appeals reversed Welker. The court agreed with the review board that the town acted outside the process set out in state siting standards when it applied the conditions.

Larson Acres attorney Eric McLeod said the decision reaffirms state standards trump local regulations, adding state standards lend predictability to the permit process.

Town attorney Glenn Reynolds called the decision "very disappointing." He said the appeals court ignored the need for clean water.

Peter McKeever, an attorney for neighbors who sued in support of the town, says the decision leaves residents at the mercy of industrialized farms.

Green Bay Press Gazette


Wisconsin: Land of 10,000 Waste Lagoons?

"Can you imagine tourists driving up to Door County and having to endure the stench from manure lagoons produced by factory farms?"

John Peck
Executive Director
Family Farm Defenders

"...The emerging food system is based increasingly on factory farms or "confined animal feeding operations" (CAFOs). These often entail the heavy use of antibiotics to ward off the diseases that proliferate when thousands of animals are penned up in confined spaces.

Critics say the system produces vast lagoons of animal waste and sometimes toxic gases. It displaces small family farms with food produced under industrial conditions. And it relies on legions of low-wage laborers..."

Read The Fight Against Factory Farms In Wisconsin at Isthmus: The Daily Page.


The Small Town and the Factory Farm

From what I've been reading and hearing about what happens when these factory farms move into an area, there isn't much good news. You always tell yourself it will be different around here. Will it?

"...Through the years, I keep complaining publicly, writing letters to the editor, going to city hall meetings, still wearing my pin. But I have paid the price, as have others. Some have received letters of intent to sue; some have had a crushed turtle dumped in their driveway. I used to order firewood to heat my home: I've had to stop, because the last time I received my load, it was covered with smelly liquid pig manure. I had to wait for months before I could get near enough to stack it. On a call-in radio show, my husband said that pig farms should be inspected more often, more severely controlled: next day, we had 2 used pig artificial inseminators dumped on the street in front of our home. Children walking by were playing with them: I shudder at the thought of the illnesses they could have contracted that morning..."

Read more of The Small Town and the Factory Farm at OnEarth magazine.