Fisher: Dispatch series linking farming and water pollution lacks breadth

A Columbus Dispatch series last week titled “Fouled by Farms” examined the relationship between agriculture and water quality. While in-depth, the series’ sensationalisic headlines and lack of breadth left readers missing the big picture, according to Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) Executive Vice President Jack Fisher. Read Fisher’s take on the series in the letter to the editor, copied below. 


The Dispatch series Fouled by Farms provided a valuable examination of the relationship between agriculture and water quality. Spencer Hunt’s research, reporting and writing was commendable. Too bad the sensationalistic headlines (Drowning in Manure, Toxic Soup) detracted from otherwise credible journalism.

While the series’ depth was impressive, its breadth was lacking. Such a detailed focus on the link between farming and pollution left readers with an incomplete understanding of an important public policy issue.

The challenges associated with nutrients and crop protectants were exhaustively detailed, but missing was an equally comprehensive examination of the positive aspects of these vital tools. Farmers now raise more food on fewer acres than ever before. Experts forecast we will need to grow more food in the next 50 years than we have in all of history, a need that can’t be filled without crop nutrients and protectants. The coming explosion in food demand also will drive Ohio’s economic engine, adding to the 1 million jobs already tied to our state’s farming industry. More attention to the sound reasons farmers use manure and chemicals would have added balance to the series.

The impression given that Ohio’s regulatory system is lax is incorrect. Ohio’s ag pollution abatement rules apply to all farmers and establish state standards of management to abate excessive erosion or the pollution of waters. Producers, transporters or applicators of large amounts of manure require training and licensing by state regulators. Only certified professionals are allowed to apply restricted use agricultural chemicals, and they are required to adhere to strict application regulations. A rush to additional regulation, without addressing proper regulatory authority, associated costs and Ohio’s business competitiveness, would be misguided.

The series’ presentation of the science regarding atrazine, which farmers use to control weeds, deserved more clarity. U.S. EPA recently completed a multi-year, exhaustive study of the product. The scientists concluded, with absolute certainty, that atrazine is safe to use and does not pose a risk to humans, wildlife or the environment. Criticisms of the product are not scientific challenges, they are political beliefs.

One subject that lacked context was the link between farming and costs incurred by municipal water suppliers. There are 30,000 pesticide applicators and more than 13,000 pesticide products regulated by the state. Regulated sectors include aquatics, forestry, domestic, industrial, landscaping, animals and others. In terms of fertilizers and pesticides, there are more acres of athletic fields, golf courses, public roadsides, urban and suburban lawns, cemeteries and other managed turf in Ohio than acres of corn. Homeowners use chemicals and fertilizers similar to those used by farmers, however homeowners are not required to be certified and are not required to adhere to application regulations. Additionally, EPA has identified more than 100 pharmaceutical and personal care product residues along with antibiotics and steroids that are commonly found in drinking water sources. Clearly, agriculture is only part of the reason water is tested and treated, a significant point missing in the series.

Farmers are proud of their accomplishments in utilizing our natural resources in a responsible fashion and look forward to providing even greater levels of stewardship. They also welcome the public’s attention to their profession, and don’t fear close examination of the complexities of feeding the world. They only ask that when farming is under the microscope, the big picture be brought into focus as well.

– John C. (Jack) Fisher,executive vice president, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation

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