By DAVID GREEN
The package of six bills affecting agricultural operations in Michigan is causing plenty of controversy as it makes its way to a vote by state representatives. Farm groups hail the bills as protection for the environment—and also refer to the package as “Protecting Farms, Growing Jobs”—while environmental groups see the bills as giving permission to pollute.
A lot of citizens don’t take kindly to the idea of manure-laden water streaming off farm fields into drains, rivers and lakes, but passage of the bills would make that a reality. The difference would be a matter of terminology. The manure would no longer be known as such; instead it would be called “agricultural storm water discharge.” It would change from an illegal act to a natural outcome of modern farming.
By now many readers see this opinion as anti-farming. That’s ridiculous. We live in an agricultural community and we depend on agricultural products like everyone else. Our concern is with—back to the previous paragraph—the outcome of modern farming.
Liquefied manure isn’t a good mix with tiled fields. Large livestock operations have lagoons holding huge quantities of liquefied manure and it all has to be applied to land somewhere. The problem with tiled fields is no secret. It’s accounted for many of the dozens of manure discharges that have occurred in this area in recent years.
In fact, committees have met in Lansing to discuss the problem and look for solutions. We hope the new farm bills are not considered a solution—change the name and continue as before.
If the proposed bills pass, will farmers have an incentive to work toward the prevention of what are now considered illegal discharges? Will it be all right to apply liquid manure to frozen fields without the worry of a subsequent visit from the DEQ?
We applaud the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s push to have farmers complete the MEAEP environmental program. The more farmers learn about potential problems, the better. Likewise, creation of a booklet that specifically outlines farmers’ environmental responsibilities is a fine idea. Complaints have been lodged about following the DEQ’s “constantly moving target of regulations.” Passage of House Bill 5713 would take care of that problem, but passage of the entire package would result in a lot less to write about in the new booklet.
The proposed bills are all about protecting CAFO owners from citations for polluting, but they’re nothing about addressing the underlying problem that’s causing contamination. And they’re certainly not about protecting the rest of us from what would become legal pollution.