Soil and water

Government support for real conservation, not CAFOs

Deborah J. Comstock

If healthy soil is the pathway to the world’s food supply, clean water and ecosystems, why are so many farmers turning to mechanized farming, which has been proven to damage soil quality? soil and water? The answer to this question may be more complicated than we thought.

The federal government has conservation programs designed to help farmers improve water quality, boost soil health and preserve ecosystems. These dollars are taxpayers’ money, but they don’t always go to the farmers truly committed to the soil quality effort. For example, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) is the most popular farm bill for conservation programs. Funds provided to farmers help plant cover crops, fences to facilitate rotational grazing practices that improve soil health, and infrastructure that helps grow organic vegetables. But less of these funds reach this agricultural sector and instead go to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).

According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), large sums are spent to fund conventional farming practices that do not qualify as conservation. Small farmers receive denials for these conservation funds, while big contracts go to dirtier operations, like factory farms. According to Michael Happ, program associate for climate and rural communities at IATP, contracts were awarded in 12 agriculture-intensive Midwest and Great Plains states, and funds varied widely among farmers and did not meet. necessarily to the conservation standards described in the EQIP programme.

In fact, in some states, like Iowa, the funds went to large animal agriculture industries and not to small farmers who actually practice soil conservation. Since the 2002 Farm Bill first made CAFOs eligible for conservation funds, large, industrial-scale farmers have been receiving taxpayer money for inherently unsustainable operations. Thus, taxpayers’ money has been used to clean up manure accumulated on concentrated agricultural systems or to install large drainage systems that help remove excess water from staple crops on large farms. The problem of funding these types of operations arises when drainage drives excess nutrients and pesticides into rivers and streams and these nutrients feed into polluted soils and waters and contribute to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. .

Lisa Held, senior writer for Civil Eats, reported that “Minnesota spent more than $3 million to fund 38 waste management facility covers for CAFOs at a cost of nearly $80,000 each.” Factory farms are asking for funds for waste storage facilities, while small farms with real conservation programs like grazing are on lockdown. A University of Maryland study found that less than a quarter of EQIP contracts between 2009 and 2018 funded the practices most likely to benefit soil and environmental health.

Millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on improving our soils and water quality, but the reverse is happening. Local government officials must step in and work for the benefit of the people, not the factory farms.

Deborah J. Comstock is a small farm owner, member of Lenawee Indivisible, and president of the Palmyra Township Planning Commission.