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Patriotism Agriculture and Phase II WIPs
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by Tim Junkin | 2012

My father was a pilot who flew off an aircraft carrier in the Pacific and fought in every naval air engagement from Midway Island to the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea, where the Japanese fleet was destroyed. Seventy-five percent of his original squadron was lost in that effort. His skipper later published a book with photos taken from the cockpits of Corsairs; aerial pictures of torpedoed destroyers; Japanese carriers on fire; and American Hellcats flaming into the sea. As I grew up my father rarely spoke of that time. Once or twice, though, with the power that only such an experience can bestow, he’d quietly talk about patriotism, about love of country.

My father was a pilot who flew off an aircraft carrier in the Pacific and fought in every naval air engagement from Midway Island to the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea, where the Japanese fleet was destroyed. Seventy-five percent of his original squadron was lost in that effort. His skipper later published a book with photos taken from the cockpits of Corsairs; aerial pictures of torpedoed destroyers; Japanese carriers on fire; and American Hellcats flaming into the sea. As I grew up my father rarely spoke of that time. Once or twice, though, with the power that only such an experience can bestow, he’d quietly talk about patriotism, about love of country.

 

Growing up during the eras of civil rights, Vietnam, the seemingly endless world population growth, and its effects on our environment, I’ve often wrestled with those words, patriotism and love of country, trying to understand better what they really mean.

      Patriotism is certainly not love of a political candidate or even a president. If it were, few patriots my age would be left. It is not even the admiration for a political system. After all, as Churchill once quipped, “Democracy is the worst form of government . . . except all the others that have been tried.” Moreover, if it were simply loyalty to a form of government, how would one explain the love of Nelson Mandela for South Africa even while imprisoned for decades by his white oppressors?

      Part of patriotism certainly is a love for your people. But in equal measure the word means a love of the land, of the place where you call home. It means a love for the fields, rivers, mountains, animals, seasons, the traditions they engender, all part of the place that is intimate to your life.

     As such, perhaps one of the most powerful expressions of patriotism is to be willing to fight for the health of such a place, for clean water, clean air, for land that is not poisoned or degraded. We are, make no mistake, embroiled in such a fight in 2012. For forty years we have tolerated the gradual deterioration of our magnificent rivers and Bay such that we have “dead zones” proliferating around us. All of us are inculpated in this catastrophe and all of us, at least those who wish to bear the mantle of patriot, must now take on the challenge of this fight.

 

Recently, a local non-profit, Environment Maryland, published a scientific study on chicken manure, demonstrating how it contains excess amounts of phosphorus which has been poisoning our soils. When a farmer fertilizes his corn with chicken waste, the report detailed, in order to provide the needed amount of nitrogen, he must put enough waste on his field that it leaves as much as four times more phosphorus in the ground than the crops can uptake. This excess phosphorus over the decades has saturated our soils and is polluting our rivers. The report raised the ire of certain segments of the agricultural community. A poultry industry representative called it a “misguided effort in an on-going series of attacks upon the Delmarva Peninsula’s chicken industry and farmers…”

      Maryland farmers rightly point out that they have been doing a great deal to improve their agricultural practices so as to reduce pollution. We are all grateful for this and commend them for this effort. But many of our Eastern Shore rivers, above the tidal influencewatersheds surrounded by agriculturecontinue to become more polluted. The better response to the Environment Maryland research paper might have been to acknowledge its conclusions, and to appreciate and articulate that ways must be found to better manage the 500,000 tons of chicken waste that is spread on Maryland fields each year.

     According to recent statistics from the EPA and Maryland’s Bay Stat Program, agriculture remains the largest contributing source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. For the State of Maryland, for example, agriculture is responsible for 40 – 50% of the nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment that is over-enriching and polluting our rivers and Bay. Farm animal pollution is responsible for approximately half of this. To successfully reach the pollution reduction goals that will ensure a healthy Bay, we must find ways to effectively reduce pollution from these sources. We must, of course, do so in a way that supports our agricultural base and our farmers.

     In this regard, the EPA-directed plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by 2025 is under way. A Bay-wide TMDL (total maximum daily load) was issued by the EPA in January, 2011, with over 90 sub-watersheds assigned TMDLs as well. A TMDL defines the amount of a particular pollutant a watershed can handle and remain healthy. The EPA has asked the Bay states to submit detailed watershed implementation plans (WIPs) to describe how they will reduce pollution over the following 13 years to ensure that all their waterways meet the TMDLs. The Bay states submitted their draft watershed implementation plans to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on December 15. (Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City, for example, each developed draft WIPs to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution. These county WIPs were then combined to form Maryland’s state-wide plan to clean up the Bay.) Final Maryland county plans are due at the end of June this year.

The agricultural component of these plans has been delegated to local Soil Conservation Districts (SCDs). Meeting with farmers, environmentalists, and other stakeholders, the SCDs have been trying to develop realistic and meaningful plans to reduce farm pollution both on county levels and in a basin-wide context. For all of this to be successful, it is essential that these plans establish benchmarks that are accountable and that will lead to the pollution reduction goals that have been established.

      Ensuring the universal use of best management practices (BMPs) on farm fields is essential in this effort. Universal participation in cover crops, the requirement for targeted buffers to trap and treat surface runoff, the use of precision farm methods such as Greenseeker and Subsurfer technology to ensure that precision fertilization rates are used and that organic fertilizer is knifed into the soil, and the conversion of all county and state- owned agricultural land to model projects utilizing all such practices are just some of the steps that must be undertaken to ensure that our state agricultural goals are met.

 

Interestingly, as the various jurisdictions have been developing their WIPs, there has been a wider appreciation of the fact that the cost of reducing pollution (think in terms of a pound of nitrogen) is significantly less for agriculturally sourced pollution than for any other. The cost, for example, of eliminating a pound of nitrogen pollution by upgrading septic systems is exponentially higher than the cost of eliminating that same pound of nitrogen through the use of cover crops or a targeted buffer on a farm field. Thus, many of the Bay states are developing nutrient trading plans. The idea is that farms could install pollution reduction practices efficiently, taking their pollution loads way below the baselines required of them, qualifying for credits. The farm could then trade those excess credits for cash to concerns where pollution reduction is cost prohibitive. Like all of these plans, nutrient trading must be closely monitored and regulated if it is to become a successful tool in the effort to restore our Chesapeake.

Agriculture is only one piece of the equation. We must all be concerned about the pollution caused by the tendency to over-fertilize lawns. Lawn fertilizer use is a large though vaguely documented component of waterway pollution. And we must insist that our legislative leaders upgrade our wastewater treatment plants. All of them. We must curtail septic sprawl and septic pollution.

      For three hundred years, throughout the environmental history of the Chesapeake, legislative leaders have failed to have the courage and political will to insist that watershed protection be a priority. And so, because of their failings, we have nearly lost our country’s greatest estuary, and we are faced with the crisis that confronts us in 2012.

 

For all of us who love this land, the time is now to make our voices known—at home in the county in which we live, in Annapolis and Baltimore, wherever you live, and in Washington, DC. Let us engage in this vitally important fight with the same courage and intensity that our parents displayed a generation ago and that our men and women in uniform display today. Let us all reflect on the spirit of sacrifice that true patriotism requires. Be an advocate in the fight for clean water!

 

Timothy Junkin is the Executive Director of Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (www.midshoreriverkeeper.org)

> 2012 Table of Contents

   
   

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