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A world awash in nitrogen, bad headline of the week

Friday, February 17, 2012

Welcome to EWG’s Policy Plate, where we plan to serve up a daily helping of food and farm news during the 2012 farm bill debate.

E&E News had smart piece yesterday about how nitrogen pollution threatens human health and speeds climate change.  E&E reporter Umair Irfan writes:

However, about half of all nitrogen for agriculture ends up running off the soil and into the air or water. Runoff depletes oxygen in oceans and rivers, creating dead zones. It can also lead to large blooms of algae that choke out other species while contaminating drinking water. In addition, excess fertilizer spraying increases reactive nitrogen in the atmosphere.

Irfan bases that assertion on a study called “Excess Nitrogen in the U.S. Environment: Trends, Risks, and Solutions” by Eric Davidson, executive director and senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, published in the Winter 2012 edition of the journal Issues in Ecology. Davidson describes the body of evidence linking excess nitrates in water to birth defects and cancer.   He also explores the impact of nitrogen pollution in the air.  He argues that farmers should reduce nitrogen losses with time-tested techniques like crop rotation and diversification.  “An ecologically intensive approach that integrates complex crop rotations, cover crops, perennials, and improved animal operations, could also reduce nitrogen losses by as much as 70-90.”  Davidson writes.

Coincidentally, EWG has launched a new ad campaign yesterday to fight back against cuts to farm bill conservation programs. Since nitrogen run off from crop fields is not regulated by the federal government, these programs are the only line of defense we currently have to fight this growing threat.

Table Scraps:

- For years, solar, wind and other truly renewable energy sources have received modest federal support while corn ethanol accounted for two thirds of all federal renewable energy subsidies. Now the corn ethanol lobby is complaining that proposed Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards would unduly favor electric vehicle technology.

- Tensions remain high between the livestock industry and the corn ethanol industry.

- Kudos to the Oklahoma Farm Bureau for recognizing that cuts to conservation programs hurt all Americans, but shamedy shame shame for saying that with crop insurance “farmers actually pay for it out of their own pocket, this is not a commodity subsidy.” Except that taxpayers pick up most of tab for insuring a farmer’s crop, to the tune of $7.5 billion in 2011. It is a commodity subsidy.

-  Gary Baise, an Illionois farmer,  Farm Future columnist and proud defender of chemical-intensive, industrial agriculture practices wins this week’s award for bad headline: Organic Growers Attack Monsanto. It’s the other way around, Mr. Baise, but I’m guessing you already knew that.

Progressive Farmer editor Chris Clayton takes a hard look at a presentation given at this year’s farm bureau convention on climate change and agriculture. The presentation was delivered by a representative of the Heartland Institute, a group whose intentions and funders were recently exposed by leaked documents.

Note: Due to Monday’s holiday, Policy Plate will resume Tuesday.

Tweet of the Day

@MichaelRDimock: Think we need to use the new USDA plate as guide for how #farmbill $ gets used! #reclaimfood

Tweet of the Week:

@johncusack I wonder why you can't smoke a cigar in a private club but fracking is ok

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