Excuses, excuses: Still fair to call farmers environmentalists?

By Michael Akey

“Farmers are the original environmentalists.”

That’s the phrase I heard several times during a recent state legislature committee hearing on a bill that would limit when farmers could apply manure and other fertilizers on croplands. Now, common sense would dictate that plants don’t take up nutrients when plants are not growing, and science tells us that during the winter these nutrients either seep into the water table or run off into the Chesapeake Bay.

Every possible excuse was heard as to why farmers just cannot be asked to limit the application of manure on their fields:

• “Other states pollute more; why should we be responsible?”
• “Fencing out livestock from streams is expensive.”
• “Poultry manure isn’t a waste product; it’s a benefit.”

It seems that farmers just do not want to take responsibility for the waste and manure produced on their farms. But are these excuses really valid?

As a farmer in Maryland, I understand the costs involved in starting a farm from scratch. I also understand the challenges involved in farming in a traditional way, where the animals can graze and the manure is utilized responsibly. While it was Maryland's Natural Resources Conservation Service office that helped get us on our feet, the lessons I’ve learned apply throughout the mid-Atlantic.

What about the cost for fencing animals out of our streams, so that they are not polluting the stream with their own manure? State and Federal cost-sharing programs paid for 112 percent of the cost. How about the cost of fencing  the rest of the farm? To help create paddocks for rotational grazing, the programs paid for 87 percent of the cost.

What about compost facilities, gutters, downspouts, energy-free watering systems, wells, water lines, and watering troughs. All were cost-shared by state and federal programs. And that program for winter manure storage? It turns out that 87 percent of the construction cost is covered.

Maryland has an agricultural cost-share program that has subsidized more than $125 million in farm conservation practices since 1982. I don’t know of any other industry where the public subsidizes proper waste management for the manufacturer. Yet, some farmers still find excuses.

According to 2009 data from the Chesapeake Bay Program, approximately 68 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from Carroll County that threatens waters including the Chesapeake Bay comes from farms. Throughout the watershed, agriculture is the largest source of these pollutants.

The politics of personal responsibility seems to come to an abrupt, screeching halt at the end of the farm lane. Why is it that some farmers seem to refuse to take responsibility for the waste generated on their farms and instead blame everyone but themselves?

The issue of water quality in the Chesapeake Bay is not a liberal or a conservative issue.  It is an issue for all of us. The economy of our region depends heavily on the Bay. Oysters, crabs, fish, sportsmen, tourism, transportation– they all depend on a healthy bay. Everyone wants safe water for our children to swim and fish in. Everyone wants a clean and safe environment.

If it is true that farmers were the “original environmentalists,” then it is imperative that we farmers must take up that mantle once again and start taking personal responsibility for what we produce. It can be done. The programs to help are already in place. We cannot afford to wait any longer.
Author Michael Akey owns Green Akey’s Family Farm, which raises grass-fed beef and lamb. Essay distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

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This is total bullcrap. Obviously, a government dependent farmer Obama supporter that wants subsidies Organic farming and natural use of animal and even human waste is better than the widespread use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides any day. This article suggests that natural farming is no longer a viable option. Take that to the grocery store.

and during the winter months ALL water runs off into the bay and causes massive dilution.

(notice how green the ground is despite those cows obviously wallowing in it day in and day out)

@Country Farmer, did you read this article fully or just react to it? Michael Akey wrote about how farmers need to take responsiblity for the waste management of their animals. Read it again. It states nothing about how natural farming is no longer a viable option but states it is and also there are programs in MD that help why not in VA - this has nothing to do with the national government but STATE which should want to help farmers sustain and keep our environments clean.

My question is do these programs also exist for Virginia Farmers or farmers all over this nation? I also see a huge benefit for farmers to also offer directly to all their goods. I would much rather buy half a butchered cow from a farmer than the grocery store and cut out the middle man and all the things they do to that cow before it is slaughtered. I also see a benefit where farmers could offer composted manure directly to the general public to use on home gardens and yards. (They could earn money from those ventures and possibly employ others too.)

Some of our local farmers have been true environmentalist. Margareta Douglas's farm Rivanna was honored with the Clean Farm Award by the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District. Hopefully other farmers will follow her example.

"Through collaboration with the TJSWCD, a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), and the CREP program offered by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), the waterways on Rivanna Farm have been completely fenced out from cattle over the past seven years. Aside from reducing algae in the pond, livestock exclusion has greatly reduced the sediment, nutrients, and bacteria entering Fosters Branch and the TMDL-listed Rivanna River."


If you've ever met Joel Salatin or heard him speak, you know the answer is yes. The farmers running Monsanto franchises or acres long concentration camps for chickens? I wouldn't expect you'd find many environmentalists among them. It changed when farming became more of a business and less of a calling.

Well here's a news flash,
In the midwest corn is king, lot's and lot's and lot's of resource wasting subsidy sucking corn baby. To get into the fields early spring to get that corn planted, drain tile is installed to get that pesky water off the fields. All the residual fertilizer from the previous year and a bit of silt is drained into the nearest stream which ends up in the gulf of mexico.
Ethanol, high fructose corn syrup, bad corn harvest in china or canada, jackass politicians,(see ethanol)
We are Done!!!!!


You did not mention whether or not Rivanna Farm received any tax credits, State of Virginia or Albemarle County support for the fencing. Also, is it a working farm? Is the land in an agricultural easement?

Given that the Chesapeake Bay and the bodies of water that feed it touch on many states, the pollution issue should be addressed at the Federal level. I understand that there are programs in place that have shown that Bay pollution can be reduced and production increased using techniques that change the types of fertilizer used on working farms.

Take a look at the web site of American Farmland Trust (Google it!). I believe that you will see information about ways to reduce Bay pollution from farming.

We need to save the planet. We need to demand that all levels of government establish programs for recycling and pollution control. We need to save open land and we need to require open space at all developments of land. We need to put more land in conservation easements. We need to resist organizations that pretend to conserve land and allow their leadership to engage in questionable real estate transactions.

Air, water and productive land are elements of basic survival. We need to do a much better job of using all of these elements or they may become the next oil!

Let's see you put a fence around THAT!!!!!

Country Farmer, wants to believe that his farm is not subsidized by the Government. If he raises grains they are subsided by by crop insurance. If we do not get any rain for the months of August and September. He will be the first looking for Drought relief for his farm, The fuel in his truck and tractor is all subsidized by the government. If he needs a loan he can get a low interest loan from the Government. Country Farmer, face the facts. The farmer in America gets more hand outs from the Government than any other industry. One last thing. Organic Farming and Natural farming are two completely different things. Organic farming benefits the environment. Natural farming benefits the farmer. All Natural, is just A marketing term so you can ask more for your product.

The commenter County Farmer castigates the author of this article for being "government dependent." Yet County Farmer has admitted that he has land in the county's land use tax subsidy program, which provides him with a generous taxpayer-supported tax break. Ii wonder if he considers himself "dependent?"

Urban Farmer asks if Rivanna Farm "received any tax credits." Indeed it did, and does. The Thomas Jefferson Soil & Water Conservation district newsletter reports that "In the early 1990’s Mrs. Douglas placed Rivanna Farm under a permanent conservation easement with Virginia Outdoors Foundation." That generated healthy tax credits. And the county assesses Rivanna Farm's 542.56 acres for tax purposes at only $173,800 (including $23,300 for the value of "improvements"), which produces substantial subsidized tax savings.

Margarita Douglas may have been an environmentalist, and current Rivanna Farm owner Richard Douglas may be too. But taxpayer subsidies seem to make it easier.

I got news for you County Farmer, If we got rid of Obama tomorrow, we would still have farm subsidies, do everyone a favor and don't ever vote

What a laugh County farmer. Like Republicans don't hand out farming subsidies like candy to all the bootstrapping farmers with their cowboy hats and boots stomping away. I watched a lot of the real old school farems get destroyed by farm subsidies that amount to little more these days than corporate subsidies.

Get back to us hen you actually have to do something on your own without tax subsidies from the government.

Subsidies should be banned they always end up corrupting the thing they were supposed to help, thanks to politicians.

I've heard of this watering system that provides water for both livestock and horses while keeping them out of the streams and creeks. The water comes from digging a well, a genius idea. It provides cleaner water for both the animal and our precious environment. Check it out: http://www.sure-flow.com/

Or we could require farmers to do what Germany requires its cities to do: take their fresh water from downstream of their waste water return. Nothing promotes good behavior more than immediate consequences from bad behavior.

Who is that Betty? it's not this Betty?

when I was growing up ,all farmers had slit trenches that they used as landfills.Of course they threw hazardous materials into these trenches.On occasion ,we drank out of streams that were contaminated by their livestock.Not sure why a lot of us are still somewhat healthy.

First of all, ***, the use of the term "concentration camps for chickens" will certainly please the folks with ancestors cooked in Nazi ovens. Thanks for the accurate comparison.

Secondly, the issue of polluting water by farmers would not be an issue if we all did not flock to the waterfronts, close to rivers and populate the formerly sparse landscape. Drink the water, swim in the e-coli, enjoy it you pabulum pukers. For example, if you want to all live near the Rivanna and pretend you are stewards of the land, deal with the consequences. If you want to develop land near the Susquehanna, then quit bitching about the decline of the crab population in the Chesapeake.

America has 300,000,000+ people...in an ideal world, we would all be distributed normally. But we're not...so our waters are being filled with poopie and we live too close to it. Too bad.

R.I.P.: Frank Vincent Zappa ("America Drinks and Goes Home")

Fish farms put manure into the ponds to help the fish grow.

The grass is always greener over the septic tank.