Sandra Batie on agriculture and the environment

Programs | Midday | Topics | Environment | Types | Speeches | Grants | Legacy Amendment Digitization (2018-2019) | Topics | Agriculture |
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Sandra Batie, professor of agricultural economics at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, speaking at a Twin Cites conference on the rural economic crisis. Batie addressed agriculture and the environment. Batie has consulted about agriculture's effects on the environment to the USDA, U.S. Department of Transportation, Conservation Foundation, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Army Corps of Engineers.

Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.

At one time the farmer was seemed really as a steward of the environment and we supported as Americans. We supported agriculture sector is benefiting all of us things that we're good for the farmer. We're good for all of us. Most Americans either came from a farmer one generation removed from afar Marana farm and they sought clear linkage between the farmers welfare and their own because of these perceptions. If you look at the history of most natural resource policies in this country Soil Conservation Water Resource development Wetlands Reclamation, they were two benefits of farmers welfare, and they really weren't natural resource policies in the sense that we tend to think of them today.Until very recently these these traditional programs have been fairly immune from criticism. However, starting with the proximately the rise of the environmental movement in the 70s and its citizens became further and further removed from the farming sector attitudes have begun to change and I think they're still undergoing change in this area towards the agriculture production sick and changed perceptions about the relationships of Agriculture to the environment and these change perceptions are resulting in challenges to traditional programs as well as development of new programs in the natural resource area that are going to affect farmers access to and use of Natural Resources at one time agriculture technology was seen as a solution. I think now agriculture technology to some sense is seen as a problem.Let me just give one example of the changing public attitudes not too long ago the national food marketing Institute a poll grocery Shoppers and ask their attitude about food safety 77% of the Shoppers thought pesticide residues in food products were serious health hazard. Another 18% thought these chemicals were something of a hazard. This was by far the greatest concern expressed by the Shoppers outdistancing by far cholesterol salt additive preservative sugar and artificial coloring the poll was conducted before we have the Alucard poisoning and watermelons on the west coast before ethylene dibromide was found in ground water in floor. I find this kind of response by by Shoppers, very informative particularly, since there's not a scientific consensus nor really, I think a political consensus on the nature and magnitude of these chemical residual problems in our food system nor on other environmental impacts. However, the resource debate is clearly focused on these issues. Those that fear that their future in the environment are put at risk by current agricultural practices are taking the initiative in framing the debate. They are taking the initiative and posing pod. What's the options and this effect is clearly visible in shifting and redesigning traditional Water and Soil Conservation programs. And it's also taking place outside traditional agricultural Arenas increasingly agencies, which really didn't have much interest in agriculture find themselves putting agriculture is an important part of their agenda. The Environmental Protection Agency is considering Banning LR4. Use on apples peanuts fruits and vegetables has a suspected carcinogen. That's just one of the many ways that they're being drawn in Food and Drug Administration is reluctantly by owing to heavy pressure to provide closer oversight to animal drugs who's residues might show up and perhaps pose a health hazard Secretary of interior Hotel recently reached a compromise with a group of 250 California Farmers that meant they could no longer receive federal that they could continue to receive. Irrigation water provided they could assure the secretary there drainage water would no longer going to the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge. The irrigation water was so Laden with Trace element selenium 20% of the wild fowl hats to pet Refuge have deformed eyes beaks Wings legs are skulls selenium was 420 times the recommended safe levels by EPA and there's fear that that type of toxic contamination is widespread throughout Western bird refuges. Congress is giving a lot of attention right now to Nonpoint pollution and looking at the Clean Water Act, which is up for reauthorization prior to this really non-point pollution that is water pollution that comes off in such things as agricultural field had really been a priority of the state and local areas is not a fit but many environmental groups felt they were not getting this problem was not getting enough attention. So the modifications Congress is now considering considering would use federal authorities to encourage states to implement land use practices that reduce this type of water pollution through grants to States through Federal Assumption of nonpoint control responsibility when States failed and provision for citizen lawsuits, if neither federal or state governments Act Also, there's increased attention at the state level. My own state of Virginia is putting 2.5 million dollars towards assisting farmers and reducing their contribution to water pollution problems in Chesapeake Bay. You're thinking him up in that amount Maryland is doing the same Federal Water Resource development programs are traditional type of being redesigned as well. Really water projects have come to a virtual standstill if you think of the traditional project is being building a dam for example, and future dams are going to be heavily. The beneficiaries are going to be the ones who are going to be paying the cost for them as car-sharing reforms move forward. There's just lots of scrutiny on traditional Soil Conservation programs to be sure that they're enhancing soil resources and not so much worried about whether they're enhancing Farmers welfare. Federal farm programs are being redesigned with an eye towards environmental effects Technical and cost-sharing assistance by federal agencies to Farmers for Wetlands. Drainage has virtually came to a complete stop. The new farm bill has three really historic items in it the conservation reserve a swamp Buster provision and a sodbuster provision the swamp Buster inside Bowser sidebuster Provisions prohibits Farmers from getting any Farm commodity benefits if they cultivate previous Wetlands or previous fragile grasslands, the conservation Reserve allows Farmers to bid to receive rental payments to retire their land from cropping for 10 years. What makes these changes so impressive to me as an observer. Is it scattered much of Reagan administration philosophy of reducing government roles in many facets of the economy. Lewis-harris the poster explain the perception to why he thought this was so when he made a a speech to the midwestern Governors conference annual meeting last year and I quote. Well, most Americans are fed up with Mindless Federal Regulation as part of their lives that make no sense by the same token there other areas besides defense where people see a vital and I'm going and even growing need for government participation. These generally Center on the ground rules for safety in our society just means safety on the highways safety in the workplace safety in the environment safety in the public Vehicles. We take the airports we land in and the communities where we live and I think a particular interest or what we're doing. Today is Harris is an observation about the state role in Environmental Protection and food safety. Quote it is no happenstance that over the past few years. People are now telling us for the first time in the polls that they're taking that the environment can better be controlled at the states rather than the federal level part of the reason is that there is a sense that this federal government is not Playing for Keeps on issues such as toxic waste disposal and acid rain, for example, the law has fallen to states to figure out the ways in which a clean environment can be achieved in an effort which involves both the public and private sectors above all however with the end result being a sharp decline in environmental contamination. No, this is interesting in another context that we really don't know a lot about the magnitude of agriculture's impacts on the environment the nature or the magnitude of them, but I don't find it surprising that we're seeing legislative response and public response before we have full knowledge of what these impacts mean often is the case that we have to raise the questions either politically or otherwise before any information is going to be assembled just to give you an example. It wasn't until the 70s and this was after 50 years of history and Soil Conservation that we really ask the question. How bad is soil erosion? Where is it and what difference does it make and how much is two too much wasn't until 77 that US Department of Agriculture conducted a inventory that for the first time provided a statistically valid picture of the magnitude and location of erosion United States. What's after 50 years of programs? We ask that question they found that over three billion tons of cropland soil is eroded annually in about 56% of the crop land was roading a trade if it exceeded the tolerance level set by USDA the only 5% of the cropland accounted for over 66% of what was considered excessive erosion. I also wasn't until after 50 years of history that we asked how bad is it? Why should we care about soil erosion and ask what effect of soil erosion have on crop yield University of Minnesota soil scientist Larson Frank Pierce and Robert Dowdy. We're the ones who recently established that an estimate of what continuation of current erosion rates would mean on a national level. They estimated that if you had the same farming technology we do today that if we allowed our national crop to crop land of a road at current rates, we would experience approximately a 10% decline in heels over the next hundred years. And of course any technological Advance we have might reduce that impact they've estimated further that that's about 40 million dollars per year of losses. Nashly though. I'm always do be at the national figures cuz sometimes local areas can be quite severely different than the national average. We just started worrying about him how bad it was to have sediment appear in our rivers and streams and bring the chemicals with them and cause water pollution. The only study I know of that that's really attempted to deal with this is a brand new one just came out last year by the conservation Foundation using highly unsatisfactory information it be estimated that crop land corrosion cause somewhere about 2.2 billion dollars in water quality damages not including the damages to Aquatic systems such as the Kesterson Refuge to which they simply didn't feel like it asked to make We really didn't ask ourselves about Wetlands conversions until the 70s and we didn't estimate how much wetlands have been converted to agricultural uses until 1984 when the office of Technology assessment estimated the magnitude of these conversions. They estimated over 80% of the 550,000 Wetland Acres that were converted through the 50s and 60s were converted to agricultural uses for an example close to home the estimated that 56% of the original Prairie pothole area of the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota remains almost all of those conversions were for agriculture. Concern with agriculture pollution of groundwater is very recent. Although agriculture is not a major cause of groundwater pollution as most contamination can be traced to underground storage tanks of gasoline in solid waste disposal site agriculture can have significant impacts in certain regions groundwater contamination by agricultural pesticides been found in at least 18 states us Geological Survey and EPA in 1984 estimated that 20% of us will well show nitrate contamination probably associated with fertilizer and 6% of these exceed the maximum level that EPA recommence is safe. Surface water in the west is heavily over-allocated the lower Colorado River what average rainfall already has demands on a Stream flow 225% of the water there, Colorado River never reaches the sea dries up somewhere down South of the Border because of all the use of Agriculture of that water. And of course with the irrigation, there's salinity problems and there's chemical problems that come with it. Despite the fact that we are going to know these trans I still argue. We don't have a good scientific consensus on what that means to human health what that means to economic Vitality but public opinion about appropriate agricultural practices is none the less changing and the more we know about agriculture's impact on the environment. I would argue the more we're going to see some fundamental policy changes emerging. I really believe that in the past. We ask this kind of question. I know we did as researchers and someone is politicians as well. What was the impact of natural resources on Farmers income on resource prices? This is how we approach problems. It's turned around now we ask how will Farmers practices impact natural resource quality and quantity and that's a fundamental shift in the way. We're approaching questions of policy. Other implications, I think if I'm right about these fundamental changes in attitudes that I think are appropriate to States. First environmentalist those interested in food safety nutrition water users as well as farmers and agribusiness people care about agricultural policy. These groups need to be involved in policy design. If we're going to have alliances forged that one are sensitive to the public goal and improve Environmental Quality, but equally important so that the environmental groups are subject and knowledgeable to the fact that I have a culture has some unique constraint that must be recognized if wised and policies are to be fashioned. In the news near future. It appears that states are going to be increasingly responsible for the protection of their own environments for the implementation of environmental agriculture programs. And I certainly would suspect at least partly responsible for the financing in these programs and since the demand for high-quality environment and food. So robust, I don't see these Trends really being muted by Farm Financial crises or economic recessions one implication of this perspective them for state government is to search search for cost-effective ways to piggyback on any federal initiatives. There are in this area. For example, the new Farm Bill does authorized up to 45 million acres to go into conservation Reserve states can determine which lands are going to go into the federal conservation Reserve vs. The kinds of land they have in their states that they would like to have on a conservation Reserve. Incentives can be targeted to those lands cost-sharing can be provided for cover crops for those lands. I understand Minnesota is considering such a program and I congratulate you you were leader in that area if that's the case. As you probably are aware estate needs to be very very careful in this kind of design. However and piggyback Ventures one is a great danger that the state can provide Florence and incentives for example to rip up past conservation practices. So you can suddenly be eligible for having landed a road so much. You should get money to put it back in conservation practices. You can devote design programs and suddenly decide you think that you can accomplish to brew two goals with one type of policy my experience and that's been two usually accomplished need to go well and sometimes I do it at Great expense. And also there's great danger that you can expose the treasury to too large a degree for the kind of return that you game with careful design policies. I think piggybacking has some real potential also because agricultural programs are often both the extensive and expensive revenue-generating programs may be needed to finance the implementation of environmental improvements water users such as fishermen and Hunters could be asked for example to pay user fees to finance conservation that enhances water quality. The design and implementation of such Revenue enhancing programs may become an important part of State agendas. Funds could be used from such a revenue-generating programs for the public purchase of cropping rice or the creation of conservation easements on agricultural land with a high potential of contributing either to ground or surface water quality problems. I think it's interesting to note that there was a recent poll. I believe it was a Minnesota citizen sister their support of a food tax. If it were earmarked to assist agriculture a majority said they would be willing to do that. I think this majority support would remain or indeed maybe even increase if such revenues contributed to Environmental Quality Improvement as well. I think there's presently a lot of interest among farmers and systems of farming that reduce chemical use use less energy reduce soil erosion and or are more diverse agriculture. Unfortunately, I think the land grant universities of which I'm a park have very little information with which to respond to these types of requirements and wants of farmers and have very little with which to outreach to certain audiences and producers. Furthermore as environmental concerns become embodied and programs farmers are going to be subject to new constraints. Some already are subject to constraints and maintaining Environmental Quality farm management advice developed in earlier years is not adequate they need to be this advice needs to be modified to help farmers maximize profits within these types of environmental constraints natural resource management education is going to become as important as agricultural production education within this context indeed I would argue to needs to be in a gray shirt on the bodies of this knowledge. In this context extension as well as research programs must Place greater emphasis on farming practices that are less harmful to the environment Sade based rotations, non-chemical Pest Control dry land agricultural practices and reduce fertilizer use and this new type of research and extension agenda requires funding but it also requires leadership which states can help to provide. Now with record-breaking trade deficits and record-breaking federal budget deficits looming and with the corrective actions being is almost as unpalatable is no action. I think the next year's at best are going to be very challenging to policymakers and leaders such as yourself. I see the states having more responsibility than ever before 4:30 is traditionally left of federal level Environmental Quality food safety and agricultural policy. But I also think is the federal government doesn't move towards asking the states to take more responsibility for Environmental Quality. They're going to be very good opportunities for those States who position themselves to be prepared to accept that responsibility funding opportunities will go to the states that that are there first with the programs with the ideas with the research. Minnesota is an excellent situation to Be one of those steaks and captured the leadership position as opportunities arrived. Thank you.


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