Monday, August 22, 2016

Changing how we farm

The Union of Concerned Scientists report:
1. This year, US farmers increased corn and soybean plantings, despite the fact that the crops are expected to lose money because of dramatic price drops. As a result, the farmers are expected to receive nearly $14 billion in crop insurance payouts—the most since 2006. About 25 percent of the nation’s net farm income in 2016 is expected to come from federal insurance subsidies and insurance payouts.
2. The Federal Crop Insurance Program is anticipated to cost taxpayers a total of $22 billion from 2016 to 2018, and cost estimates keep rising.
3. Corn, the largest beneficiary of federal subsidies, is often grown in ways that lead to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution of the nation’s inland and coastal waters, with costs borne by the people and businesses that rely on them.
4. The cost of removing nitrates from U.S. drinking water exceeds $4.8 billion a year. The agriculture industry covers about $1.7 billion of those costs.
5. The tourism industry loses nearly $1 billion each year, mostly from losses in fishing and boating activities because of nutrient-polluted water bodies.

Iowa State University researchers at the university’s STRIPS project have found that planting areas of perennial prairie plants (“prairie strips”) on just 10 percent of farmland in and around crop fields can reduce nitrogen loss into rivers and streams by 85 percent, phosphorus loss by 90 percent, and sedimentation by 95 percent. UCS documented the dearth of federal funding for such research. Moreover, federal/state funding for any kind of technical assistance for farmers is lagging.

Expanding prairie strips could have a big impact:
A. Adoption of these prairie strips on 10 percent of farmland in Iowa would reduce water cleanup costs by more than $375 million annually and save Iowa farmers more than $90 million in prevented nitrogen and phosphorus loss from their soil-growing season.
B. Application of prairie strips across the entire Corn Belt would have much greater benefits, amounting to more than $840 million in water cleanup savings and almost $200 million in savings to farmers
C. Based on our conservative estimates, adoption of this system across the Corn Belt would have a return on investment of two to three times its cost.

Costly water pollution from agriculture isn’t just a Corn Belt problem. A new UC-Davisassessment of California’s nitrogen problem found that the state generates about 1.8 million tons of nitrogen every year, more than half from agricultural sources, and that nitrate pollution affects the drinking water of at least 212,000 people in two of California’s leading farming regions, that’s a population more than twice as large as that of Flint, Michigan.

 It a practice that has been used for a long time.  Where this all changed was when finance people started claiming that this "inefficient" as it left 10 percent of a farmers available land "non-productive". They encouraged farmers to put ever more land into production so as to "maximize yield". This is not rocket science. The seeming stupidity comes down again and again to ignoring everything but the bottom line whereby profis maximized by transferring costs to the environment. It is how corporations work and the only reason they exist and make those shareholders a "return on investment". Economists have a cute little word for the costs, like pollution, that don't get figured into the bottom line. They call them "externalities" but “collateral damage” would be a more appropriate word.