Farm and suburban polluters

June 16, 2008
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Drive through areas hit by the deluge of rain in the past few days and youâ??ll see mind-boggling soil erosion.

At the base of myriad fields lie deltas of sediment washed downhill from elsewhere in their respective watersheds. Not only was the soil displaced from where it helped nurture food crops, but dirt that didnâ??t settle in the deltas continued to wash down rivers and streams, polluting the water with farm chemicals.

U.S. Department of Agriculture soil scientist Chi-Hua Huang says nothing could have prevented all of the erosion. But he says farmers could have done a lot more by adopting better conservation methods.

Too many farmers still hold to practices used in prior generations out of fear theyâ??ll fail, Huang says. Others like the comfort of sticking with the familiar.

When confronted with the pollution, farm lobbies sometimes have responded by pointing fingers back at suburbanites. Quit dumping fertilizer and herbicides on your lawns and golf courses, they say, and then come back and talk about farm fields.

Huang says thereâ??s some merit in the argument. Farmers seldom spend more than absolutely necessary to get a good crop, he points out. By contrast, many homeowners pour on far more chemicals than necessary to make grass grow. Huang is aware of some homeowners exceeding labeled rates by a factor of five.

What do you think? Does either party have a greater responsibility than the other to clean up its act?

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