Food food food…

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“We have to have food.”

How many times have you heard that? They’re the five magic words most favored by defenders of “modern” agriculture — the Alice in Wonderland world that’s turned farms into factories and animals into machines.

Simple, basic, indisputable truth. And, in the opinion of at least one expert: “BS.”

That last is not a scientific term, but it comes to you from a scientist. One you’ve met before. We call him “Dr. V.”  He’s a veterinarian and a certified top level dairy cow expert who works for the US Department of Agriculture at a leading university. Because the university has ties to factory farms, Dr. V prefers to remain anonymous.

But he won’t remain silent when it comes to the five magic words.

“That’s BS,” he said. “OK, we have to have food, but conventional farming is using more resources to produce a little amount of food when we could produce ten times more a different way. It’s just wasteful.”

“Conventional farming” is defined by Dr. V as regular, commercial, industrialized farms, as opposed to small, old school farms that could be organic. And if we know what’s good for us, Dr. V says organic is the future.

“A conventional farmer needs to use water, oil, land, seed, fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides, and all of these are really expensive, not only because they cost money but because when we use these resources, we can’t replace them,” he said. “They’re not renewable.

”Organic farmers don’t need as much oil, because they’re not pumping poop all over the place and hauling poop all over the place.  They need lime, but the seeds they use they’ll produce themselves. They need fertilizers but not in the amount of the conventional farmer, and when they do use fertilizers they use them in a good way. They use pesticides and fungicides, but those pesticides don’t use oil to produce. All conventional farms are based on oil. We are reaching the point where we’re going to more money, getting the oil than we’re going to get from it.

“So if organic farms produce more food with less input, which do you think is going to be better in the long run?”

The long run gets short shrift, though, when today’s profits trump tomorrow’s conservation. It’s that way in most businesses, and it’s especially true with CAFOs, which are Dr. V’s area of special expertise.

“If you put any kind of animal in a concentrated condition, and if you feed that animal just a limited variety of food, you are just creating ideal conditions for a disease breakout,” he said. “So why are you telling me now that concentrating these animals in a very small area with very high density is good?

“The only reason is money, because we are turning animals into machines and because we want to make a farm into a factory. We want to standardize the animals and their production so we can have a perfect product. Money is the only reason, and it’s not working because the fertility of those animals is decreasing and the disease outbreaks are increasing. They are lasting less.

“If I buy a cow today and put it on my land and milk it twice a day, that cow can last 20 years. If I put it on a dairy farm, it can last 11 or 12 years. But the average age of a CAFO cow is three to four and a half. And now think about the amount of money and time you put into that cow.”

Dr. V thinks about those things all the time. He’s a veterinarian not a mathematician, but when it comes to cows, he’s more than able to do the arithmetic.

He points out that conventional farmers use ten pounds of food to produce one pound of beef cow, and only 60% of the cow is meat.

“People will consume 20 to 30% of that meat, and 50% of that is being wasted. he said. “Is that how we’re going to feed the world?”

As Dr. V sees it, not for long.




Are you listening now?


Here we are in the midst of one of the worst droughts in recent memory.  In fact government data shows that this is the worst since 1956 with no real end in sight.  My guess? Once the rain comes, once the corn has been harvested or plowed under, once the flowers are blooming again and the grass is green… this drought will fade into a distant memory.  Did you take notice of the dying crops or the lowering water levels or the way that the birds and insects flocked to your garden sprinkler.  Did you listen to the news broadcasts describe the threat to our food supply due to lack of water or hear the tales of those whose wells ran dry because of the lower water table?  Are you listening to the plight of dairy farmers who, in the midst of trying to recover from low milk prices, may be forced to buy expensive hay just to feed their animals?

Like the warm and dry weather that chased away the rain, we have other, serious threats to our water.  Threats that will not go away when the rain returns.  Threats that will be permanent.  Threats that will impact everyone, everywhere.  We have man made threats resulting in over use, abuse really, of our water.  Here in Wisconsin, to anyone who is paying attention, large factory farms or CAFOs, are expanding unimpeded at an alarming rate.  These CAFOs house thousands of animals in very limited space and use millions of gallons of water.  Adams County in Central WI has recently been awakened to the reality of these factories.  Kewaunee County to the East has already been overrun by them.  In fact, WI had over 233 CAFOs at the beginning of 2012.  But citizens are saying enough is enough.  The proposed Richfield CAFO near Coloma has been met head on by concerned residents and property owners.  Legal action has been taken to stop the madness.  This CAFO alone has been permitted to pump nearly 132 million gallons of water when it has been proven that a lesser amount of 52 million gallons will cause harm to area lakes and trout streams.  A newly proposed CAFO and accompanying agricultural operations near Saratoga are seeking to drill  49 wells adding to the insanity.  The recently opened New Chester CAFO near Grand Marsh wasn’t even fully operational when it requested to double in size.   This would require so much water that the current wells intending to serve the CAFO will be capped and new wells drilled nearly 2 miles away and pumped back to the site.  Is anyone paying attention?  Is anyone listening to the concerns and fears?  Does anyone care what this trend is doing to our water, our air and our ability to simply enjoy our environment?

We need water…

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How much have you been hearing this lately? With the extreme drought, we are definitely being reminded that water is a precious resource. Lack of water has many people fearing the resulting economic impact that is sure to follow.
For the most part we take water for granted, except for times like these. The streams always flow, the lakes have water, and my well pumps every time the faucet is turned. When something is so readily available, we tend to take it for granted.
But what if good quality water was suddenly reduced or eliminated entirely? How would your life be altered?
It could start with trout streams losing flow rate, resulting in fish loss. Or maybe your favorite lake is suddenly low and not as enjoyable. Perhaps there are algae blooms that make enjoying the recreational aspect impossible or even dangerous. Perhaps your well starts to cavitate as it periodically runs dry. These would negatively affect your quality of life.
What if suddenly your well water becomes contaminated with manure runoff? Or your water test shows high levels of nitrates or other chemicals that make it unsafe to drink? These things would certainly affect most every aspect of your day to day life.
These are all things that are a possibility with the introduction of a CAFO. History across the country has shown just such things can, and do happen.
So when we look to the skies during this drought and pray for rain, and we all know this drought will end, think about what you would do if the water problem was man-made, and the cure was not going to be as simple as the God given rain?