It is a beautiful spring day and I am departing my place of birth, Iowa, a wide expanse of corn and soy amidst easy rolling hills. It once was virgin prairie, sustaining perennial grasses, thundering bison and the indigenous people of the Tama nation. My great grandparents were some of the original sod busters, building new German lives on the prairie. So very much has changed in just a few hundred years and indeed the past 50 years have witnessed exponential alterations. In my lifetime I have seen the rise of the industrial agricultural chemical complex take over the vast majority of this landscape.
I leave Iowa contemplating when I will return. With both parents gone and my niece now married what will the next occasion be? This visit conjured up many memories, thoughts and dreams. Despite the mono cropping of corn and soy there are still alleys and havens of natural riparian forest that are flourishing. Songbirds from South America on their yearly trek give symphony to the day while frogs and cacophonous insects have their say in the night.
That first morning all seemed well and as it should be until my brother-in-law opened the morning paper. The Des Moines register headlines proclaim that the number of Iowa lakes, rivers and streams impaired by pollution has climbed 15 percent in just two years! The waters of Iowa, once pristine in my youth are becoming increasingly fouled and contaminated.
Algae blooms caused by excessive farm nitrogen use and confined animal operations are destroying the lakes and streams. From this article I learn that my state of birth has 20 million hogs in residence cohabitating with just 3 million humans. They produce a lot of poop and a piggish amount of degradation to the environment.
It rained almost every day and the air felt sweet and fresh. Spring planting had just been completed and along with it a hearty recipe of atrazine and glyphosate had been sprayed as a prophylactic against native grasses and weeds. The rains were literally flushing this brew into the rivers, creeks and lakes, awash with a cocktail of immense ramification.
Pesticide Action Network (PAN) monitored for levels of atrazine in Midwest drinking water in 2012. The chemical showed up in 64% of the samples taken in communities in Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota. USGS investigated streams in Midwest states and found that Glyphosate and other herbicides were detected in most water samples, which were collected to coincide with runoff events following herbicide application.
Atrazine is a known endocrine disruptor and Glyphosate has been deemed a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization and a possible cause of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, the fifth-leading cause of cancer in the U.S. Both contaminate drinking water in areas where they are used, and Iowa is ground zero. These spring pulses of herbicides into surface water are now predictable, man-made events.
It is becoming less economically feasible for the many Iowa farmers to stay on this chemical based treadmill. Conventional crop prices are falling well below sustainable levels. A recent USDA forecast of the 2015 corn crop is $3.50 a bushel, roughly half the price in 2012 and much less than the current organic price at $14.00! Conventional soybeans are forecast at $9 a bushel just under two-thirds the price set in 2012 and more than half of the organic price of $25.00!
The increase of super-weeds that are tolerant to the herbicide-laden technology are creating an explosion in costs to control. New and mighty-weeds such as Palmer amaranth are flourishing despite heavy chemical applications. According to another Des Moines Register article “this amaranth costs as much as $150 per acre to control in some states.”
If the industrial agricultural chemical complex doesn’t make economic sense and is polluting the land and waters what then is the answer?
A resurgence of organic production may be the only real answer that makes sense.
Iowa, land of my birth, I say goodbye in body but not in spirit. I stand by you in fighting for clean water, healthy soils and generating prosperous stewards of the land. In every action I strive to educate and facilitate ways that will tear down the industrial agricultural chemical complex and replace it with a sustainable organic future. I will never leave that Iowa dream.