I have been wondering lately what kind of conversations are going on inside the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) about animal waste. Admittedly, not a topic I spend a lot of time thinking about, but they’ve been giving me reason to the past couple of weeks.
Last Friday, the MPCA sent out a press release to herald the benefits of using manure from feedlots as fertilizer for farmers’ fields. I don’t like the idea of confining animals in small spaces and producing giant vats of animal waste for the sake of raising food when systems that use pasture seem to be both economical and environmentally superior. However, I shrugged off the press release with the thought that if your going to have all of this waste, it is probably better off spread on a farmer’s field than somewhere else – say a playground.
Then on Monday, the MPCA announced a public comment period was open for the need to clean up Lake Independence – just west of Minneapolis. One of the sources sited for the excess nutrients in the lake? “Livestock manure.”
Two hours later, the MPCA announced a public comment period was open for the Sunrise River cleanup plan related to fecal contamination. The first of the three mentioned sources for the contamination? “Unregulated livestock facilities”
Ninty minutes after that, the MPCA announced a public comment period was open for the Lower Otter Tail River clean up plan related to too much sediment being in the water (known to wonks as a turbidity problem). Two of the problems mentioned for this pollution were wind erosion and lack of cover crops on fields. Both problems I associate with the fact that we are growing rows and rows of corn and soy so that we can then turn around and feed that to animals kept off the land and in confinements. Both problems could also be aided by the increased use of pasture as a means of livestock production – from my understanding of it anyway.
Information on all of these clean up studies are available at the MPCA website and the public comment periods run to the end of November. To be fair, there are other sources of the pollution that need to be clean up as well in each case.
The next day, the MPCA announced that they had fined a feedlot $17,000 for spilling 25,000 gallons of manure. Luckily, non of it seemed to have reached water this time.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not very knowledgable about most agricultural issues, but wouldn’t it make more sense for the MPCA to put out a press release advocating for increased use of pastureland rather than one touting the benefits of spreading feedlot waste followed by four more press releases detailing pollution problems stemming in part from feedlots?