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Farmers are part of the water quality solution, shouldn’t be scapegoats

Wednesday, June 24, 2020   (0 Comments)
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By Tom Crave, DBA president

Once again, farmers are being scapegoated for water quality issues. Shocking, we know.

In a new story, the Wisconsin State Journal presents information from an activist group about nitrates in municipal water systems and — wait for it — allows the group to point the finger squarely at farmers.

Some of the data is mischaracterized, but that’s another story. And, for good measure, the story tosses the Dairy Business Association in as a boogeyman, out to block attempts to address water quality issues.

Lo and behold, the newspaper didn’t actually ask DBA for a comment. We are not sure exactly why, but probably because it’s easier not to talk to someone you are painting as the bad guy so that you don’t have to consider facts and perspectives that make you rethink the premise of the story.

Let’s be clear — dairy farmers in Wisconsin want clean water. Why? Because they care about their neighbors. Because they want their communities to be healthy. Because they want to be able to do what they love doing — producing food.

Now, is there a need to address nitrates in some parts of our state? Yes. Is DBA hell bent on blocking solutions? Absolutely not.

Again, no one wants drinking water to be anything other than safe.

Why then is DBA opposed to the state creating more targeted performance standards, as the story says?

For one, we don’t think the state has done nearly enough to utilize existing standards to effect improvements. How do we know if additional regulations are necessary when we haven’t fully implemented those already on the books?

Also, the changes would only apply to a small portion of the state’s farmland. Solving nitrate issues will take a comprehensive approach, and everybody, in and outside of agriculture, will have to play a role. After all, there are certainly other sources of nitrates than manure and fertilizer on farm fields. (Check the data on that.)

We believe that more direct, tangible improvements to water quality could be achieved if the significant time, money and other resources that would be needed to develop this new regulation were instead devoted to implementing water quality protection practices on more farms.

The state could capitalize on our farmers’ commitment to addressing water quality challenges — a commitment that is increasingly on display in the state. Dairy and other farmers are forming watershed conservation organizations that work with researchers from the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere, environmental groups, community leaders, and local, state and federal agencies to make a meaningful difference. DBA has played an integral part in helping these groups get established and maintain momentum.

Clean water and a thriving agricultural community are not mutually exclusive. Both are achievable, unless perhaps there’s more unfair and unproductive finger-pointing.

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