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  • December 2015

  • “Thanks a Lot”

    Thanks a lot. Three short words that can express two very different meanings depending on tone of voice. I was told this the other night and the tone of voice was indeed sincere.

    Traveling home just before darkness fully engulfed the area with lightning and thunder accompanying the advancing storm my headlights revealed a large black object along the shoulder of the gravel road. As the object turned, the yellow ear tag provided the answer on what it was. Now those that are familiar with cattle know that there are two types of cows: Those that have gotten out and those that will. This Angus cow being one of the former. Knowing who owned the cows in the creek bottom pasture along the road I called them, relaying the news. Since he was late for supper anyway, he would be right over and thanked me for letting him know. During this conversation the cow continued on her exploration, venturing into the neighbors corn field. Knowing firsthand how difficult it is to get cows out of a corn field that is shoulder high and remembering the distinctive sound of snapping corn stalks, the situation needed immediate action. I headed her off at the pass and decided it would be best to stay put and wait for the owner to arrive, hopefully before the storm front did. Long story short the rambling cow along with several other escapees were directed back where they belonged just as the first big, cold drops came from the dark clouds. Thanks a lot was the last phrase issued by the owner. Short, to the point and most importantly, sincere. No more needed to be said.

    Rewind to earlier this year when the Des Moines Water Works decided that agriculture is solely responsible for the nitrate levels in their water supply and that three counties up stream are the source. Rather than working with all stakeholders up stream to adopt further voluntary conservation practices like Cedar Rapids has done with those upstream in the Cedar River watershed, a lawsuit was filed. Since this litigation has national implications, millions of dollars will be spent determining if agriculture should remain exempt from federal permitting. During this anticipated multi-year legal battle the same Des Moines Water Works which has a permit to discharge, will be dumping the nitrates they removed back into the river for others downstream to deal with. While the naturally high organic matter soil upstream will continue to release nitrates through the nitrogen cycle just as it has for thousands of years.

    Does agriculture need to continue the efforts put forth showing improvements in water quality? You bet, all of us do including our non-farming neighbors. Documentation will be key but how do we differentiate between naturally occurring nitrates from annually applied nitrogen? Farmers will continue to put in buffer strips along streams, install new and maintain existing waterways, plant cover crops, install bio filters on tile lines etc. along with their day to day conservation farming practices all with the goal to keep soil and nutrients in the field where they belong. All of this will be done despite the efforts of the DMWW to legislate from the bench rather than from the Capital.

    Lawsuits of this nature will take many years to finally be over, siphoning assets away from Iowa to out of state attorneys. Assets that could have been directed towards solutions. So with the storm cloud of this legal action hanging over all of agriculture; courtesy of the activists at the Des Moines Water Works, my reply is the same as my neighbors- Thanks a lot. The difference is I am not as sincere as my neighbor.

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