Crawford Stewardship Project works to protect the environment of Crawford County and neighboring regions from threats of polluting and extractive industries, to promote sustainable land use, environmental justice, and local control of natural resources
Crawford Stewardship Project is a nonprofit organization.
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Crawford Stewardship Project
P.O. Box 284
Gays Mills, WI 54631
“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” ~Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
"CAFOs are only profitable because so much of the cost and damage is externalized onto the environment, neighbors and wildlife. The monitoring, supervision, clean-up, restitution, fines are not happening, thus the true cost of CAFOs never find the way onto the balance books." Talking point from the CAFO Conference.
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
~Aldo Leopold, 1948. A Sand County Almanac.
Taxpayer Subsidized Manure Digester
By: John Kinsman, president Family Farm Defenders
Capital Times (Madison, WI) – March 14th, 2010
What is the latest taxpayer subsidized economic stimulus scheme?
At the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen late last Dec. USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack unveiled plans to promote manure digesters as a way to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 25% – the trick is that you have to be a factory farm to qualify. In his State of the State address in early Jan., WI Governor, Jim Doyle, also announced his latest round of fresh tax credits for factory farm expansion, including a whopping $6.6 million for two manure digesters in Dane County catering to just a handful of mega dairies. Dane County Executive, Kathleen Falk, has also been pushing for more taxpayer money in her own budget for these digesters. The total pricetag for the one proposed near Waunakee is over $17 million – just imagine how much good that money could do if devoted to promoting sustainable agriculture instead!
The real tragedy is that manure digesters actually make global warming worse while “solving” a manure problem that would not even exist if cows were allowed to graze on pasture rather than being confined indoors. As Paris Reidhead documents in the Jan. 2010 issue of the Milkweed, methane is 21 times as bad as carbon dioxide when it comes to causing global warming, and this methane threat largely stems from factory farms that store liquid manure in lagoons under anaerobic conditions. In contrast, utilizing manure as compost under aerobic conditions reduces the “carbon footprint” of dairy cows by over 90%. Such common sense, though, does not make as much money for the corporate interests that now drive U.S. farm and energy policy.
From Jan. 11th – 24th I was in Germany to speak on the dairy crisis in the U.S. as part of the International Dairy and Eco Fair Trade Conference in Berlin. Representatives from countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe all spoke on the problems now facing dairy farmers in their regions. Oliver du Schutter, special rapporteur to the U.N., church leaders, the EMB (European Milk Board) and others discussed the causes of the global dairy crisis and responses to it. In the following panel discussions we agreed on global strategies to raise farmgate prices and bring dignity to family dairy farmers.
The EMB hosted the second half of my trip, including tours of dairy farms and milk plants. Our first stop was a 950 cow dairy on a former East German collective farm. The farm buildings and connected methane digester were several years old and received huge government subsidies to keep them operating. There were chronic problems with the digester and at the time the mixer in the tank was broken, requiring special scuba divers to repair it. The conditions were so bad that the divers could only remain in the tank for an hour. Similar problems plague manure digesters in Wisconsin, which always seem to be on perpetual high tech life support.
While in Germany we also toured newer 600-800 cow dairies with digesters. The owners’ explained that the digesters operate like a cow’s stomach and need the proper bacterial balance to function efficiently. And for this balance, the farmers often have to add corn silage or other biomass material to the liquid manure. The owners explained that these digesters were simply not profitable without the five to ten year contracts that guaranteed huge government subsidies. As problems developed they were forced to install a newer more expensive system, and with that “fix” came newer problems. It seemed this treadmill was mostly designed to benefit sales people, technicians, and manufacturers of manure digesters, not family farmers or the environment.
Without a fair milk price that actually covers their cost of production, many of the German farmers said they would not survive through 2010. The same crisis is facing dairy farmers in the U.S. who have endured a 50% decline in farmgate prices due to corporate control even as consumer prices for milk in the store have not budged and the dairy giants report record profits. In contrast, sustainable organic grass-based dairy farmers were a bit better off in Germany as they are in the U.S., though their future is not secure either. Numerous studies by Tom Kriegl of the UW Center for Dairy Profitability have shown that the most efficient dairy operations have less than 100 cows mostly outside and eating grass – yet, such a family farm is not large enough to qualify for taxpayer support and does not create enough manure to require a methane digester.
On the last day of the Annual Congress of EDM (Germany’s largest dairy farmer group) over 1500 people were on hand in Berlin to hear Germany’s Agricultural Minister, Ilse Agner, give a pro-industry more free trade pep talk not unlike what U.S. farmers must endure from our own USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack. In discussions afterwards, German farmers were shocked to hear that U.S. farmers were also suffering from low prices and repressive trade/farm policies just as they were. The USDA, industry, and the Farm Bureau had convinced them all that U.S. dairy farmers were prosperous. They had also been told that all U.S. dairy farmers were jumping on the factory farm manure digester bandwagon in order to take advantage of carbon credits – just a few of the many false solutions to climate change, including biotech crops, biochar, and agro fuels, that are now being pushed at public expense.
As long as my tax dollars and those of other organic sustainable farmers are being used to bankroll schemes that just increase pollution for more corporate profit, there will be no economic recovery. Indigenous communities developed “earth-friendly” farming methods that kept our planet healthy for thousands of years. Many of these practices are being incorporated into family farming today around the world. In fact, a recent 2008 study by 400 scientists for the United Nations International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) concluded that small-scale organic agriculture is not only the best means to feed the world, but also the best response to climate change.
Let’s stop wasting money on expensive digesters for a manure problem that does not need to exist, terminate factory farm subsidies, and put cows back outside on pasture where they belong. This will not only lead to fairer milk prices for family farmers and healthier food choices for consumers, but it will actually help spare the planet from climate change, too.