FIXING WATER

            A couple of days ago I had a contingent of folks from nearby Rockbridge County visit to see how we kept cattle out of riparian areas.  Seems that county has some serious water quality issues stemming from cattle in the streams.

             Steeped in government cost-share programs funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, this group left intoxicated (not sure that's the right word, but it's the only one I can think of right now) about non-government opportunities to protect water.

             Here at Polyface, we lease numerous properties in the area, some of which have participated in these environmentally-lobbied government water protection schemes.  The problem is none of them takes a comprehensive look at the ecology.  It's water engineers looking at streams rather than a strategic eclectic view of the landscape. 

             This is why I do not join environmentalists in lobbying for government cost-share programs for farms--at all.  None of them solves anything, and many actually cause more harm than good.  A quick look at government program paradigms is revealing:

             1.  No portable infrastructure.  Everything must be stationary.  Mobility does not accrue to real estate value; the government will not support measures that don't inherently increase real estate value.  The result is lots of concrete and extremely expensive installations.

             2.  No open water development.  Open water (like ponds) attracts wildlife, which is a liability to farming (ducks could carry in avian influenza, for example).  Water development, therefore, must be wells or underground.  These are expensive, opaque, and do not increase the hydrologic commons.

             3.  Permanent physical fences.  Again, we're back to real estate.  Cheap and easily maintained electric fence does not accrue to real estate value; only permanent physical fencing does.  This high maintenance and high capitalization solution intimidates farmers, who generally aren't stupid.

             4.  No relationship between riparian and the greater landscape.  Grazing management, plowing, and overall biomass development for erosion and run-off abatement does not enter the discussion.  Intervention procedures  affect only the water courses, which is highly myopic.

             5.  Cost-shared infrastructure does not facilitate managed grazing; it actually requires continuous grazing, which results in overgrazing and destroyed landscapes.  The water flow to these drinking stations is so slow that it will not handle a grouped mob of cattle; these drinking systems only work with continuous grazing, which is horrible for the land.

             While environmentalists who lobby for cost-share riparian intervention in agriculture mean well, they have no clue that this is what actually gets implemented on the ground.  None of it works; none of it really moves the needle.  Whenever we rent a piece of land where these systems have been installed, at great taxpayer subsidization, we put in our own functional system at perhaps a tenth the price.

             And so it was a real joy to promote low cost electric fence, highly managed grazing, increased biomass production, increased organic matter, pond development, carbon economies and composting to this group.  Once they saw it, they got it and are now believers in a better-than-government way.  Nov. 19 they're hoping to get 400-500 people to hear my presentation about these things, and they're hoping at least a handful of farmers will attend.

             Have you assumed environmental lobbying for government money to assist farmers in riparian protective measures was on the up and up?  Did you know about these anti-ecology prejudices in the design and spending of these monies?