Farmers are Environmentalists

It is high time that farmers stop viewing environmentalist as a dirty word. Farmers are true environmentalists. Farmers making their living out in the environment spending more than one weekend during summer camping in the woods. Hunting, trapping, fishing, understanding biology of nature occurs from long hours of observation — textbooks are good, but long hours out where nature occurs is the real teacher. Farmers have worked to reduce soil erosion, minimize pesticide and fertilizer use long before it was fashionable to do so. I have yet to meet a farmer who is willing to spend more on pesticides or fertilizers than is required. I don’t think farmers would spray for insects, weeds and diseases if they did not have to do so. It makes simple economic sense — it costs money and time to apply pesticides.

Just maybe some people forget that farm families drink from wells on the farm. Just maybe some people forget that farm children play in the yard, and farm families have barbecues in the back — just like city people. Farmers and farm families are concerned about water quality and the effects their practices have on the environment.

There is not a farmer who hasn’t noticed an improvement in water quality in the past years. Soil erosion and siltation of waters has, on the whole, decreased tremendously in the recent past. Why is agriculture getting a lot of blame for groundwater contamination? I don’t know. Perhaps one reason is that farmers don’t let themselves be heard as environmentalists. Perhaps farmers are an easy target. Perhaps it is not warranted.

We all hear a lot about agricultural pesticides contaminating drinking wells. Of course, that’s tragic. I would like to quote from a U.S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 2325: “Three factors responsible for contamination of the greatest number of wells are highway-deicing chemicals, petroleum or heating oil from leaking underground storage tanks, and underground waste disposal through septic systems.”

Surprised to find agricultural pesticides absent from the list of the top three? I am not. Well contamination tends to follow population distributions. The more populated the area, the more landfills, the more roads and deicing materials are required, the more septic systems, and the more leaking storage tanks. Leaking underground storage tanks are not just abandoned farm tanks, they are service station tanks, too. I don’t expect the roadways not to be deiced, septic systems to be over regulated or service stations to stop selling gasoline.

Farmers could make their voice heard on water quality boards, pesticide control boards, at the Department of Environmental Protection, local planning boards or similar policy making groups.

It is time that farmers think of themselves as environmentalists.