City Learning for the Country
April 29, 2008 by Robynne Anderson
Sometimes, the agriculture sector
has a tendency to be wary of environmentalists. Some of the most
extreme groups attack barns and terrorize farm families. However, there
are many groups that are very far from such extreme stances and are
eager to work with agriculture to better the health of the planet.
Sometimes, the agriculture sector has a tendency to be wary of environmentalists. Some of the most extreme groups attack barns and terrorize farm families. However, there are many groups that are very far from such extreme stances and are eager to work with agriculture to better the health of the planet.
This goal strikes a chord with farmers. By the nature of their jobs, farmers are very close to the land—regardless of the size of their operation. It is very rare to find them intentionally polluting.
Generally, it is an accident, poor management or lack of understanding. That is why some useful lessons from the civic experience can go a long way to improving manure management.
Gene de Michele of the Water Environment Federation has a great understanding of the methods used to tackle water quality problems over the past three decades. He has been quick to share this knowledge with groups working on manure management. In addition, the Water Environment Federation has done its own work in the area of manure for the benefit of water protection.
Really, managing human waste is not much different than handling animal waste. If anything, the challenges of human sewage are much greater. For a start, even the largest confined animal feed operation is small in comparison to humans housed in urban centers. Add to that the fact that a single human generates as much as six times more waste water than a single pig, and you have a situation that is far more daunting to address.
Based on his experience with municipal waste management, de Michele offers some practical advice:
Attempts to tackle the issues of water pollution on a national scale are unlikely to succeed. Rather, it makes sense to start with high-risk waterways. There are patches of nutrient imbalances all across North America. For instance, several southeastern states have more intensive livestock operations, which means there are more nutrients than the land can take. By the same token, there are other areas where cropping means nutrients need to be added to the land. Moving nutrients in the form of manure from areas with an excess to areas with dirth is not economically feasible at this point. So focusing on areas where there is an excess makes good sense for pollution control.
Rather than throwing money at the problem nationally, focusing on key risk areas could have a better effect. This means providing enough federal funding to really encourage the adoption of technologies, rather than spreading the pie so thin it offers only a few thousand dollars towards costs that are far, far greater.
Finding the means within one area to solve nutrient management is more manageable than grandiose schemes to ship manure across vast distances to areas of shortages. Regional solutions are much more realistic.
Now, how we achieve the same practical approach to air pollution will be the next challenge, by tackling it one area at a time.