Farm bill helps perpetuate polluted agricultural runoff

There is still debate on both sides of the political spectrum as to the new farm bill’s overall effectiveness. Even with the removal of the controversial “direct payments,” which guaranteed farmers subsidies whether they farmed or not, Republicans believe the bill is still too costly, while Democrats feel the cuts made help large agribusinesses while hurting recipients of food stamps.

However, both political parties fail to recognize an equally important problem that the bill helps to perpetuate: the pollution of our waterways from agricultural runoff. This problem is particularly salient for us Minnesotans. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has studied our state’s waterways and found that about half of them are “impaired,” meaning they do not meet water-quality standards. In these polluted waterways it can be unsafe to fish, swim, or drink their water. Nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers, manure, and pesticides are to blame for many of these impairments, as there are little to no regulations for the agricultural industry to reduce pollution.

This free-rein for agriculture is a huge problem and we need to do something about it. For one, legal loopholes exist in the Clean Water Act, since opponents to the law argued that it shouldn’t cover smaller streams and wetlands.

The Obama administration should follow through on its promise to close this loophole and make sure all waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act. As citizens of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, we need to set an example for the rest of the country by showing President Obama that he has our support for ensuring that future generations will be able to enjoy our waterways safely.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/10/2014 - 09:16 am.

    Agree !! BUT, an aside on removal of “direct payments”

    For years, the DNR has published warnings about limiting the fish we eat on a lake-by-lake basis. See and type in the name of your favorite lake to see what frequency of meals is recommended, and what pollutant(s) are at the root of the advice on limiting intake. If you haven’t looked at this before, you might be surprised. Here’s a trick: find a lake in Minnesota with NO warnings to limit intake of its fishes !!

    You might wonder how much the Clean Water Act has done to protect our larger bodies of water. Yet I appreciate the author’s good intentions, and we should take every measure to protect ALL our waterways from all manner of pollution.

    The Clean Water Act is focused on “point sources” of pollution, and specifically EXEMPTS the generalized background pollution of widespread agricultural practices, something the Act calls “normal farming”. Good luck getting this exemption reversed !!

    This money was indeed taken out of the right pocket of agribusiness. It was then stuffed into its left pocket with subsidies for crop insurance.

    “The Environmental Working Group, a critic of crop insurance, estimates that 10,000 policyholders receive over $100,000 a year in subsidies annually, with some receiving over $1 million, while the bottom 80 percent of farmers, the mom-and-pop operations, collect only $5,000 annually. These are educated guesses, because under current law, the names of individual businesses receiving support are kept secret, a provision maintained in the new farm bill. The House version included a measure that would disclose which members of Congress receive subsidies, but that was dropped.”

    The widespread propaganda that money was taken away from big agribiz by ending the direct payments program hides the fact the money was diverted to another revenue stream – even increased – for the same entities.

  2. Submitted by Joe Smithers on 10/21/2014 - 11:59 am.


    The majority of the waters in MN that are impaired have been shown to be impaired by mercury not nitrogen and phosphorous. This letter is simply a slanted attack on agriculture. Only 19% of impaired waters are due to nutrient/eutrophication. Source:

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