Looking back at ag news over the last week
The new ag secretary, Perdue, gave a speech in which he claimed the administration was going to renegotiate NAFTA within the next six months. He said, “We’re not talking about this taking years to do, but weeks…”, thus clearly indicating that neither he nor the administration he works for knows what NAFTA is in the first place, or even how trade negotiations work. If they think they can do something as complex as renegotiate NAFTA in a few weeks… Oh, brother, we’re in trouble.
With the ag sector in a near panic over the potential loss of much of their labor force due to the policies of the administration, some administration officials have been trying to calm things down. Perdue was out and about again and said in a speech that he had been assured that the administration was not gong to target employers, was not going to raid farms, and that the ag sector should calm down because the administration was not going to go after it’s immigrant labor force.
And then just a couple of days later ICE did exactly that, raiding a Pennsylvania mushroom farm and hauling off nine of it’s employees. So it goes.
Other anti-immigrant activities by politicians and law enforcement have done nothing but make the panic in the ag sector even worse. Texas just put in place a law that permits police to demand proof of citizenship during routine stops and would jail police chiefs and sheriffs who do not cooperate with federal immigration officials. Arizona has passed a similar law. Basically these laws allow, or even require, police to demand proof of citizen ship from anyone they suspect is not a citizen which, in a lot of jurisdictions basically means anyone who is not white.
Some politicians are trying to do something about this. Ag businesses and others that depend on immigrant labor are having serious problems already. There is a bill in Congress that would provide a “blue card” to farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days. That bill will almost certainly go absolutely nowhere. Wisconsin and some other states are trying to cobble together a “state visa” program that would give states more control over immigrant rights to prevent their labor force from being deported. Wisconsin is hugely dependent on immigrant labor and employers are already having problems finding people to work. That proposal will go nowhere as well. Even if it did go through at the state level, it would be over ruled by federal law and possibly would even be unconstitutional because the federal government, not the states, has control over immigration.
Wisconsin has a serious problem with water quality, especially ground water. Because of contamination by huge CAFOs (mega farms) caused by the dumping of millions of gallons of liquid manure on the ground, wells all over the state are being contaminated. Up in Kewaunee county about 40 miles from here it’s estimated that 35% – 50% of the private wells in the county are contaminated. And almost nothing is being done about it. A story in the May 10 issue of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (I can’t put in a link because I read MJS on Kindle, but you can find it with Google if you want) discovered that the problem is so serious that the Algoma school district is giving out water to students and families, some farm organizations are giving out drinking water, and even the DNR may be getting into the act, providing drinking water. And almost no one has heard about the story. I’m not a conspiracy nut, so I don’t think that they are deliberately trying to bury the story. I think it is just getting swept aside because of far more important issues. Kewaunee County is a rural area and not very affluent so news organizations tend to ignore it unless something makes a big stink.
Kewaunee County is also problematic because it is bordered on one side by Lake Michigan, and by the Bay of Green Bay (yes, I know it sounds redundant, but that’s what they call it) on the other. The Bay of GB has been suffering from dead zones, areas where nothing but algae grows, because of contamination by fertilizers, phosphorous, nitrates; the same contaminants that are getting into the wells.
Wisconsin isn’t the only state with this problem. Iowa, Indiana, California… Anywhere where large scale agriculture is going on is suffering similar problems. And the politicians are listening.
But, of course, not to the people who are finding their water polluted. Here in Wisconsin they’re ramming through new rules and regulations which would allow mega farms and irrigation systems to draw virtually unlimited amounts of ground water form high capacity wells, even in areas where the draw down has been so bad rivers and lakes are literally drying up because of it. The “new” DNR is doing nothing about the issues in Kewaunee and is working on “voluntary” solutions. And in California they tried to push through a bill that would forbid people from suing suspected polluters, giving the general public no recourse at all if they find their wells contaminated. And at the federal level some members of Congress are trying to push through a similar measure. You can read about that here over at The Hill.
Who Owns What?
One trend that I find troubling is farm land being snatched up by investment companies. Farmland Partners is perhaps the best known of these, but it isn’t the only player in this. FP now owns around 154,000 acres of farmland, and it’s expanding it’s holdings every year.
Perhaps I’m a pessimist, but when I read stories like this I tend to think of how this can be abused and misused. I get nervous whenever an essential item like farmland is being concentrated in the hands of people who don’t give a damn about anything except maximizing their profit. Yeah, I know the companies talk about preserving farmland, protecting our resources, saving the environment, protecting agriculture and all that. But when it comes down to it, the only business FP is in is to make money for it’s stock holders. Period.
Consuming unpasteurized milk has become a fad in the “natural food” world. From ridiculous claims that unpasteurized milk can cure everything from rashes, to baldness, to cancer, to claims that pasteurizing milk somehow destroys it’s nutritional content, the internet abounds with utterly absurd claims alleging health benefits from it that simply do not exist.
One thing that unpasteurized milk can do, though, is make you sick. According to a new study published by the CDC this week, 96% of all illnesses linked to milk products were caused by unpasteurized milk, even though only about 3% of the population drinks unpasteurized milk and even fewer eat cheese made with unpasteurized milk. You can read about it here over at Consumerist.
I know this sounds kind of ridiculous from a former dairy farmer, but the fact is that you don’t need milk at all. You can easily get the calcium, protein and other nutrients in milk from other sources. There are studies out there that indicate that contrary to what the milk marketing boards are trying to claim, drinking milk does nothing to improve bone density nor does it do anything that can’t be gained by eating other foods. There are even some studies indicating that drinking milk may be related to some of the very things the marketing people claim it helps.
[Addendum: May 12. I added this edit after someone who read this told me that you need to drink milk to get vitamin D. Yes, D is an essential nutrient and a lot of people don’t get enough of it, but you don’t get vitamin D from milk itself. The only reason D is in milk is because milk processors are required to add it. They basically grind up a vitamin pill and throw it in the jug. ]
Cheese… that’s a different story. Ooo, yummy yummy cheese… I think I have some of that gorgonzola left in the fridge…
Say it with me now — cheese….
2 thoughts on “Farm Catch Up”
Well. That was a lot of depressing news. Sigh.
Any hope that the EPA will help manage these issues is lost now. I imagine the EPA is now truly going to be the Environmental Predator Agency.
Alas, you’re probably right. The DNR in the state used to be quite good at managing problems like this, but since the Walker administration took over it’s enforcement rate has dropped to almost zero, they aren’t doing scheduled inspections of CAFOs, instead of issuing fines and citations they are working on “voluntary solutions” to “partner” with violators rather than doing actual enforcement. EPA is going to go the same route, I fear.
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