Thursday, December 6, 2012

The case for conservation.

PBS is currently streaming the 2 part Ken Burns documentary on the dustbowl. It a pretty good representation of what can go wrong when we disregard good agricultural practices for the sake of a few more dollars. Something that most people do not realize is that about half of the row crop farm land in the US is rented for cash. This means that the tenants do not have a vested interest in the land, and the land owners probably live in a city and do not have any connection to the land. Land rent has gotten so expensive that tenants feel the need to squeeze every last dollar they can out of an acre. I hear this argument all the time from people in the ag industry usually when someone is trying to justify a poor agricultural practice.
It drives me insane.
The most direct (but not necessarily effective) solutions involve regulation of nonpoint source pollution, but this approach will just mean that food will become more expensive and the environmental impact marginal.  Regulations are a good fit for point sources of pollution, but have historically had a extremely low success rate with non-point sources of pollution like sediment, excess nutrients, and the off-site movement of crop protection products.
It is a very complex problem.  The one thing that I am sure of is that there are a ton of ignorant people touting simple solutions to complex problems.  I happen to believe that education (perhaps mandatory?) will improve our quality of life in rural areas and for those that live downstream, but its a shame that it takes disasters like the dust bowl to draw attention to problems.

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