Today’s Topics: Air Quality; Business and the Environment; Climate Change; Conservation; Corporate Clashes; Energy; Fuels; Great Lakes; Invasive Species; Mining; Pollution; Transportation; Waste and Recycling; Wildlife; Latest from Loon Commons Blog
By Bob Christie
NOTE: Land Stewardship Project members and staff met with Governor Mark Dayton about frac sand mining issues on Dec. 4 in Winona, Minn. The meeting began with Bob Christie of Utica, Minn., sharing his perspective as a lifelong farmer on why frac sand mining is wrong for southeast Minnesota. Gov. Dayton was visibly moved and asked for a copy of the statement, which is reproduced here:
Gov. Dayton, my name is Bob Christie and I have lived and farmed in Winona County for my entire life. My wife Marilyn and I have three daughters and seven grandchildren. We farm 320 acres, of which 215 acres are tillable, with the balance being rolling pastureland and woodland. We raise corn, beans, alfalfa and oats and fatten 125 to 150 Holstein steers annually. For 35 years we also operated a 40-cow dairy. The hours are many but it has been an occupation I love. This is my vision of a family farm.
It is my hope that one day one of my children or grandchildren will have the opportunities I have had to farm. Not until you have farmed a lifetime can you know the bond you feel with our land and livestock. I believe it is that bond that compelled me to get involved with the frac sand discussion and my presence here today.
It started for me some two years ago when I was approached by individuals wanting to purchase 80 acres of my farm for sand production. Not knowing what I know today, I asked “For what purpose?” I was told it would be railed to Texas and used for glass production. This became my first lesson on the integrity of the sand industry. Somewhat perplexed, I told the individuals the ground they wanted was cropland, pasture and woodland, not sand.
I was quickly told what they needed lay beneath what I saw. They would push off the “over burden” and “waste” to get to the sand. Surely not the 45 acres of cropland where each year I dream of producing more than the year before could be considered “over burden waste,” could it? Surely not the rolling hills of grass, where in mid-May my dairy cows grazed until with bellies bulging they lay content in the afternoon sun could be “over burden waste,” ould it? Most certainly not the brush and woodland where each spring in a turkey blind or fall in a deer-stand, with my grandchildren, eternal memories are formed. That couldn’t possibly be “over burden waste.” We all have two eyes but what we see is often very different as individuals. This was lesson two I learned about the ETHICS of the frac sand industry.
I’m fortunate to have made a good living farming, so their million-dollar pay day was of no interest to me or my vision of land use. I kindly asked them to leave and not come back. Others I’m afraid may not share my vision and bad choices will be made. It is my belief that to own land only gives us a lifetime lease on it. It is our moral responsibility to pass it on to the next generation in as good or better condition as we received it in. It is the way not only agriculture but all life can be sustainable. I don’t believe anything I have witnessed in the frac sand industry makes that an achievable goal.
I have concerns about the unaffordability of land for beginning farmers as the result of escalating land prices caused by individuals selling marginal land and using sand profits to price it beyond reach of all but the rich. I also have concerns for the complexity of industrial and agricultural zones overlapping. I have concerns of rising property taxes attributed to inflated land values.
I wonder what will happen to our groundwater after removing 20, 40 or 80 feet of sand, nature’s perfect filter. Will our aquifers be sustainable in the face of water demands from processing plants and the threat from chemical wash ponds? What will be the effect to our air quality from silica dust? Will the tremendous sand hauling truck traffic be compatible with public as well as agricultural commerce, both trucks and tractors? Who will bear the burden of road repairs? What will be the effect on tourism, the life blood of so many communities in southeast Minnesota?
It was my involvement with discussions on the sand processing plant proposed for the city of Saint Charles that quickly educated me on the realities of the sand industry. It allowed me the opportunity to be part of a tour to see firsthand what the sand industry was doing for Wisconsin. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and this tour was worth many more.
Every decision maker should be required to view firsthand the sand industry in Wisconsin before offering a Yes or No vote on policy making. This tour impacted me in a way I hadn’t imagined it could, with processing plant after processing plant operating or under construction and with trucks everywhere. Nothing affected me more than our stop at the Superior Sand Mine. It was there that the full wrath of the industry could be witnessed. I looked at the beautiful hills of pines and hardwoods clear-cut from top to bottom, being dozed clean of all life to expose mountains of white sand. The sickened feeling of what I saw has compelled me to help in any way I can to keep this industry from destroying our beautiful region of southeast Minnesota.
I hope my time today has allowed you to feel the sincerity of my effort to keep southeast Minnesota as it is today, not only for my generation but for many, many more to come. There are many young people who want to farm and we must do what we can to make that happen. I thank you Governor for your time today and your leadership in this effort.
LSP member Bob Christie farms in rural Winona County, in southeast Minnesota.
Today’s Topics: Agriculture and Food; Carbon Emissions; Climate Change; Energy; Fracking and Frac Sand Mining; Great Lakes; Invasive Species; Legislature and Administration; Mining; Oil and Fuels; Parks and Trails; Water; Wildlife; Latest from Loon Commons Blog
Today’s Topics: Agriculture; Carbon Emissions; Climate Change; Energy; Fracking and Frac Sand Mining; Legislature and Administration; Local Resources; Mining; Nature Fun; Nuclear Waste; Oil and Fuel; Parks and Trails; Politics and the Environment; Transportation; Waste and Recycling; Water; Wildlife; Latest from Loon Commons Blog
Today’s Topics: Agriculture; Conservation; Fracking and Frac Sand Mining; Great Lakes; Invasive Species; Mining; Nuclear Waste; Oil; Transportation; Water; Latest from Loon Commons Blog
While walking a piece of North Dakota landscape under a withering summer sun, one’s thoughts turn to moisture—or rather, the lack of it. So when I and other participants in a soil health tour kicked up signs of cool, shady places while traipsing across a hay field, it seemed like a mirage. Green-and-black leopard frogs were zigzagging out of our way, adding life to a field that had not gotten a decent rain in eight weeks. This part of south-central North Dakota is prairie pothole country, but no wetlands were in sight as wheat and corn stretched to the horizon.
“I’ve never seen so many frogs so far from a slough,” said Douglas Miller of the Minnesota Natural Resources Conservation Service. “What’s going on there that would bring them so far from cattails?”
When we reached the edge of the field where the couple who farms this land, Todd McPeak and Penny Meeker, were standing, they made it clear we weren’t imagining things. “I hope you didn’t step on any of my leopard frogs,” Meeker said, smiling. We smiled too, and were especially concerned that we hadn’t hurt any frogs after she related a childhood story of using a stripped horse weed to “whip the crap” out of her brother and a cousin when she caught them shooting birds on their family’s dairy farm.
Meeker and McPeak enjoy seeing birds, mammals, and yes, frogs, on the acres they produce grass, hay, cover crops, and beef cattle on. But these critters are also barometers of how the sustainable farming methods the couple use are affecting their business enterprise. As McPeak explains it, more frogs in a field connotes a healthier landscape that retains moisture in the soil more efficiently, which in turn translates into better quality hay and grass that’s drought tolerant. That’s money in the bank when you’re farming in a place that gets only 16 inches of precipitation a year.
Conventional production systems that cover the land with monocultures of corn and soybeans have been a disaster for everything from grassland birds and waterfowl to amphibians and pollinating bees. In Apocalyptic Planet, Craig Childs describes being hard put to find even a couple of spiders and a toad while “camping” in an Iowa cornfield.
But innovators like McPeak and Meeker are proving that productive agriculture and wildlife can occupy the same piece of ground, and in some cases aren’t just tolerating each other, but are mutually beneficial. In this case, the farmers are part of the Burleigh County Soil Health Team, a collaboration of farmers, government conservationists and scientists. Using rotational grazing, diverse plantings of cover crops between the regular cash crop seasons, as well as tillage systems that disturb the soil little, this team is building soil’s biological health. The result has been less erosion and more farm profitability. It turns out healthy soil is also good for wildlife.
“There is no comparison,” said team member Darrell Oswald in reference to how much wildlife is present on his farm since he started building his soil’s microbial universe.
An increasing number of environmentalists are seeing that working farmland can be an ecological positive. I’ve been on farms in northeast Iowa that had, to the delight of an ornithologist with the Audubon Society, developed grazing systems where bobolinks and other troubled grassland species were thriving. Just this summer, I visited a gorgeous stream in southeast Minnesota that was being managed using “flash grazing” of cattle to control invasive plants and establish the kind of deep-rooted grasses that stabilize riparian areas while filtering out contaminants.
“It’s a great relationship—livestock and streams,” said Jeff Hastings, a Trout Unlimited project manager. On cue, a bluebird swooped over the bubbling waterway while a trout grabbed some air. So much for the old saw that cattle and creeks never, ever are a good mix ecologically.
In 2012 researchers reported that bumblebees, which are key pollinators, preferred visiting cucumbers raised with compost as opposed to those fertilized with petroleum-based fertilizers, even though both soils contained the same amount of basic plant nutrients. The study concluded that non-nutritional factors such as microbial interactions might be making the composted cucumbers more bee-friendly.
Wildlife friendly farming practices are not the norm, and producers who strive to diversify their landscape—above and below the surface—don’t get much support from the market or public policy. On the latter front, one bright spot has been the Conservation Stewardship Program, a federal initiative that rewards farmers for producing environmental benefits on working farmland. It has been extremely popular in states like Iowa and Minnesota the past few years. But as Congress begins finalizing a new five-year Farm Bill this fall, the program faces significant budget cuts: 21 percent and 14 percent in the House and Senate respectively.
If these cuts go though, it will be a shame. They would come at a time when innovative farmers are linking healthy soil, healthy land and healthy bottom lines, and CSP adds that extra nudge their neighbors need to make key agro-ecological transitions. Too bad Congress can’t connect the dots as well as Todd McPeak does.
“From bees to badgers to beef, I see it all working together,” he said as herds of frogs swarmed across his land.
Today’s Topics: Agriculture; Climate Change; Energy; Ethanol; Fracking and Frac Sand Mining; Great Lakes; Land Use; Mining; Oil; Pollution and Toxins; Sustainable Holidays; Transportation; Waste and Recycling; Wildlife; Latest from Loon Commons Blog
Today’s Topics: Climate Change; Conservation; Energy; Ethanol; Fracking and Frac Sand Mining; Great Lakes; Legislature and Administration; Mining; Nuclear Waste; Oil; Transportation; Waste and Recycling; Water; Wildlife; Latest from Loon Commons Blog
Today’s Topics: Agriculture; Climate Change and Carbon Emissions; Conservation; Energy; Fracking and Frac Sand Mining; Fuels; Great Lakes; Invasive Species; Mining; Parks and Trails; Political Change; Sustainable Development; Transportation; Waste and Pollution; Water; Wildlife; Latest from Loon Commons Blog
Today’s Topics: Agriculture; Climate Change; Energy; Ethanol; Fracking and Frac Sand Mining; Great Lakes; Invasive Species; Land Use; Mining; Oil; Pollution and Toxins; Transportation; Water; Wildlife; Latest from Loon Commons Blog