Chris Jones's blog

Cropaganda: ag industry's mendacious TV ads

Ag media is like the sound of thunder at 3 a.m. when I’m suffering from an inspiration drought. I can always count on them, especially the communication shops at the advocacy organizations, to provide a timely soaker just when I’m most parched.

The most recent gully-washer was a You Tube video posted by our favorite insurance company.

Four middle-aged and snappily-dressed Randys, looking as though they saw no need to change clothes after just filming a Cialis commercial, pose as Iowa farmers chugging coffee in a small town café.

Also making an easy transition from the Cialis set is the bragging about their performance, but in this skit the boasting relates to their success in reducing nutrient pollution.

Means, ends and granfalloons

“ ‘Shut up,’ he explained.” — Ring Lardner

I get asked with some regularity about pushback on these essays — do I get any?

The answer is less than what most people would expect.

I did get some about four months ago from what many would consider a person of influence. This was reported in the media about 10 days ago. The episode illustrates that we really don’t have free speech in the U.S.; what we have is no prior restraint on speech, therefore, say what you want but be prepared to absorb the consequences, no matter how just or unjust they may be.

As Howard Zinn pointed out (1), our right (or lack thereof) to expression flows not from the constitution, but from whomever has the power in the situation where we wish to interject our thoughts and comments. In my world, that is Iowa agriculture. You have a right to speech, but you have no right to your job. I still have mine, thankfully.

I’ve written these essays from day one with my eyes wide open. I knew/know what the consequences could be. This is one reason why I try to write them in a colloquial style that will hopefully be funny and entertaining. I want people who won’t agree with me to find some intrinsic value in my expression.

That is not how we write scientific papers. I know how to do that, and sometimes I can do an adequate job of writing them. But something occurred to me one day. While those papers serve as valuable currency in science and academia, agriculture sees most of them as chump change. You can’t use them to buy clean water at Iowamart.

'Growing Climate Solutions Act' should be renamed 'crap and trade' because Senate bill contains no actual cap on greenhouse gas emissions

Some of you may have seen the op-ed that Dr. Jones and I wrote for the Des Moines Register regarding the Gov. Reynolds’ carbon task force.

You may have also seen that the U.S. Senate passed the "Growing Climate Solutions Act," which will use public funds to create certification programs for agriculture and forestry “markets." I am writing to clarify what these programs do, why it is not appropriate to call them markets, and the potential challenges they signal for a real economy-wide climate change mitigation policy.

Markets exist because people want to obtain scarce resources. In the case of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, for a market to function, the government has to impose a maximum emission amount (the cap in cap and trade). This creates an artificial scarcity that serves to jumpstart the market. Without a cap, there is no reason to trade pollution credits, because pollution is not restricted.

Take this stream and shove it

You may have heard that another lawsuit concerning the Raccoon River was dismissed by the Iowa Supreme Court.

This latest one, pink-slipped in a 4-3 decision, was filed by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food and Water Watch. They asserted that the State of Iowa had violated the public trust doctrine, meaning the citizens of Iowa conveyed stewardship of our shared natural resources to the state and the state failed to fulfill the obligation with regard to the Raccoon River.

'Big Pollution' in Iowa courtesy of Big Ag

It’s always been in the best interests of the ag industry to make nutrient pollution seem mysteriously complex.

After all, complex problems rarely lend themselves well to simple solutions. Complex problems require lots and lots of time and money to solve, and the bigger the problem, the more likely the taxpayer is going to be asked to solve it with contributions from the public coffers.

And the folks that own all this expensive farmland (worth well more than $200 billion in Iowa) surely can’t be expected to own the pollution too!

This might hurt some feelings; or what can be done to actually improve Iowa's water quality

“To be radical is to simply grasp the root of the problem. And the root is us.” - Howard Zinn, 1999.

There’s a page on my website where I post the powerpoint slides from presentations I conduct. I took a look at that page this morning, and over the last five years I have conducted 69 programs for various groups, or about one a month on average. I reckon that at about half of these I get the question, “what can be done”, this in regard to Iowa water quality and pollution generated by the corn-soybean-CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) production model.

People have been thinking about “what can be done” for a long time.

Because of industry and farmer recalcitrance and hostility toward regulation, various ideas for improving water quality have focused on either (1) enticing farmers to voluntarily adopt practices that reduce erosion and nutrient loss without major modifications to the production system or (2), promotion of concepts like increased crop diversity and improved soil health that do require substantial management changes.

I suppose you could also throw land retirement in there, but this has not been tried on any significant scale in Iowa since the 1980s.

Stop saying we all want clean water

Originally posted on Chris Jones' blog April 14, 2019

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard or read the phrase “we all want clean water."

If so, in all likelihood it came from someone of stature or someone knowledgeable about water quality issues.

Today, I had the idea to shake the Google tree and see what fruit fell to the ground when I entered the phrase “we all want clean water.”

It turns out one of our politicians has been quoted saying this so many times that I had a hard time figuring out who else had said it, so I started plucking names out of my head and attaching them to the phrase.

What resulted was an impressive list, a veritable who’s who of Iowa politics and agriculture.

'No Country for Old Men' informs struggle to stop pollution of state streams, lakes and rivers

I packed up my 20-year-old pickup and 35-year-old camper last week and took a virus-inspired trip to Arkansas. Iowa campgrounds have been closed for some time now, and those in Missouri closed October 31. Looking further south, I found that Arkansas state park campgrounds are open year-round and I picked Crowley’s Ridge State Park because of its proximity to Iowa (far NE Arkansas) and because there was a lake to fish in.

Crowley’s Ridge is one of the state’s six landforms, a giant alluvial deposit formed near the prehistoric confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The 200-mile-long sandbar has been amended and elevated with an eon’s worth of wind-blown loess, such that the feature bulges like an arthritic spine 200 feet above the surrounding alluvial plane.

Like Western Iowa’s own Loess Hills, the soil on Crowley’s Ridge is thick and fertile, and the first settlers to the area (Crowley was the first) farmed the ridge because the surrounding bottomlands were unmanageably wet. Also like our own Loess Hills, the soil was highly vulnerable to erosion because of slope and texture. But in contrast to Iowa, where 27% of the Loess Hills is still cropped with corn and soybean (1), Arkansans had the good sense to surrender these hills to nature in the 1930s, and the ridge was re-forested to the original pine, oak and hickory, more characteristic of the Appalachians far to the east than the nearby Ozark Plateau to the west.

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