116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A farmer from northeast Iowa left me a phone message the other night, after I wrote about the possibility of farmers getting paid for sequestering carbon in the soil.
He wanted to know my agricultural credentials, with the implication that my lack thereof meant I shouldn’t be sounding off on these issues. It’s true, I don’t farm, nor do I have an agronomy degree. I did inherit land from my mother, so I still have a tie to my family’s farm heritage.
I’ve spent the better part of the last 13 years, after the flood of 2008, learning what I can about water, and how land use and farming practices affect both its quality and flooding. I’ve listened to plenty of experts, and farmers, in my effort to advocate for improvements.
I called the guy back, which surprised him. But I didn’t change his mind. He also made sure I knew that he’s contacted the pork producers about my columns.
Are they going to revoke my barbecue privileges? Who knows?
The next morning, I read Erin Jordan’s story in The Gazette about a state lawmaker who didn’t like a piece written by a University of Iowa research engineer, Chris Jones, pointing out how water pollution generated by farms, often owned and run by wealthy white guys, negatively affects drinking water in urban areas with more minorities and low-income people. He used Ottumwa as an example, also home to a meatpacking plant staffed by immigrant labor.
Jones’ piece prompted state Rep. Chad Ingels, R-Randalia, to contact a pair of UI faculty members up the chain of command. Ingels said he’s been supportive of academic freedom, but Jones’ piece would “make me reconsider my position.”
Ingels disagrees with Jones’ argument that race plays a factor in our failure to address dirty water. “I didn’t like that it made me feel that way,” Ingels told The Gazette.
What should make him uncomfortable is that farmers use practices that result in problems for people of color and their downstream communities. Ditto when agriculture lobbies against changes that might mitigate those problems. Don’t like “racist?” How about “recklessly indifferent?” Feel better?
Jones has given us a lot to think about. For his trouble, he gets a lawmaker going over his head threatening to support a ban on tenure. We’re seeing a lot of this at the Statehouse. GOP lawmakers throwing around their influence to shut people up when speech makes them uncomfortable.
Ingels also was critical of UI professor Larry Weber, who said on public TV that manure runs into waterways. The nutrients from manure run off, Ingels contends, but it’s not raw manure. Feel better?
The point is there’s a strong culture of denial in this state which feeds a lot of ridiculous pushback when people are critical of agriculture. A powerful industry has a remarkably thin skin.
Fact is, Iowa has a serious water quality problem. Science tells us agriculture is the No. 1 source of nitrates and phosphorus fouling waterways and closing beaches. Our leaders, heavily influenced by wealthy agricultural interests profiting from the status quo, are doing precious little about it.
Researchers such as Jones, Weber and others have offered solutions — taking marginal land out of production, addressing the over-application of nitrogen fertilizer and creating digitized manure management plans that actually manage manure, to name a few. No one seems to be listening.
“I am … convinced things will not get better until we smash this kowtow culture. I've been a part of that culture in the past, but I am not going back to it, ever,” Jones wrote on Twitter.
Same here, despite my lack of credentials
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