Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Amish Have Pollution Problems?

I'm stunned by this NY Times article:  it seems EPA is trying to work with Amish dairy farmers in Lancaster County, PA, to alleviate problems from pollution of the Susquehanna River/Chesapeake Bay watershed by manure running into streams.

Why am I stunned?  Because I grew up on a dairy/poultry farm in the Susquehanna.  Our farming was close to Amish in methods (horses until the early 50's, then a small John Deere tractor).  From reading Prof. Kraybill on the Amish, it seems they limit their equipment to horse-drawn stuff, going just so far as to have hay balers powered by a gasoline engine on the baler.  Those limitations keep the farm size down to family size--maybe 60-70 milkers.  That was a big farm when I was growing up, but they handled manure as we did.

First, during the growing season (early May to maybe October) the cows would be on pasture 20 out of 24 hours, so little manure accumulated in the barn.  During the months they were being fed hay in the barn, maybe 22 out of 24 hours, the manure accumulated in the barn gutters, so cleaning them was a daily chore.  But the manure went into a manure spreader, which we used to spread the manure on the fields.  If the snow got too bad, we'd pile manure and have to spread it in the spring.    In all of this, I wasn't conscious of any manure getting into the Page Brook (which ran into the Chenango, which ran into the Susquehanna).  So we weren't aware of being polluters; our hearts were pure, at least in that regard.

So how are the Amish screwing up?  My guess is three-fold:  (1) we weren't aware of the possibility of manure being washed away when rain fell on frozen ground; (2) we weren't aware of the urine seeping into the water table and then into the brook (we were aware Mom's organic garden profited by being down slope from the spreader); (3) we weren't aware of  rain washing the pile manure.  In our case, the pollution was probably minimal.  But with the Amish having bigger operations, each cause could be significant.  That's why apparently EPA is pushing manure lagoons and pits.  But my impression is that the farmer empties a lagoon into a big tank spreader, too big to be pulled by horses.  Unfortunately the article doesn't describe the emptying, just the building.

Also of some interest is the fact that the article mentions, in addition to EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the NRCS (at least the Lancaster County Conservation District), and a consulting outfit.  That's lots of bureaucracy for the Amish to negotiate.

Finally, from the LCCD:
"Under Act 38, Concentrated Animal Operations (CAOs) are required to develop and implement a Nutrient Management Plan. CAOs are defined as agricultural operations where the animal density exceeds 2 animal equivalent units (AEUs) per acre of land suitable for manure application on an annualized basis." 
Seems to me that must indicate the Amish are importing feed, but maybe not.

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