Farmer’s response to water series brings balance to public conversation

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Dave Craigmile’s entry into full-time farming permanently set his gaze on the water gauge—he took over the family farm in Boyd in 1976, the year of the worst drought in Minnesota agricultural history.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Craigmile took up the gauntlet thrown down by a series on water quality and the Minnesota River that appeared in the Mankato Free Press last December. He worked with staff at Minnesota Corn Growers Association to develop an article that expresses the view Craigmile shares with many Minnesota crop and livestock producers: conservation is a way of life, and care for the future of our land, water and air is second nature to every farmer he knows. It’s what farmers practice every day.

His piece, “My View: For farmers, conservation is key” appeared in the January 10 edition of the daily newspaper. It has been published in a longer form in a journal called The Land.

“I wanted to offer a bigger picture,” Craigmile said about his decision to respond the newspaper series. “They are portraying farmers as being downright greedy with no care for the land, or for the future. The truth is that ever since the land was homesteaded by our forefathers, farmers have been very concerned. No farmer that I know of wants to see their topsoil washed down the Minnesota River or any of their fertilizer get away from them. We all use pesticides or herbicides that have been through thorough checks and balances at the US Environmental Protection Agency. Most of the time we even shorten up and use less than the label rate. Seldom do people use over label rates. Farmers are not using products willy-nilly with the idea of making more money—that doesn’t work.”

Craigmile emphasizes that he is far from a lone dissenter among crop and livestock farmers.

He wrote in his article: “I’d like to point out that I’m not the only conservation-minded corn farmer. The majority of corn growers in Minnesota are employing some form of soil conservation, whether it’s reduced tillage, strip tillage or grassy buffer zones between fields and feeder streams. Farmers have learned to ‘farm the best and buffer the rest.’”

Craigmile thinks the love and concern for the water and the natural world comes naturally to farmers, many of whom who had the experience of going to a country school. His early memories of walking through the swale at the edge of their farm property, about a third of a mile, to get to school each day are full of happy memories about discovering nature. Before and after school, along with all the other kids, he searched the ditch that ran in back of the school for frogs and minnows.

One of the key points of information Craigmile wants to get out to the general public is a correction of the impression that farm drainage is wantonly destructive.

“People seem to think tile drain systems on farms are like pulling the plug in your sink or pushing the lever on the toilet—just press it and the field just flushes the water away,” Craigmile said. “That’s not at all the case—all of these systems have a coefficient of drainage—and it’s rarely over a half inch. The Natural Resources Conservation Service developed this coefficient specifically for conditions in Minnesota. A half-inch coefficient means that if you had a six-inch rain, say from a Spring flood, it would take 12 days for that rain to runoff into the water shed. In combination with conservation cultivation techniques, these systems mean les soil and chemicals are carried into ditches and streams.”

Like many farmers, Craigmile has been putting time and energy into his conservation ethic—going beyond implementing practices on his own farm, and going the next steps of serving on advisory committees and boards. He has served on TMDL (total maximum daily load) advisory committees for both the Pollution Control Agency’s work on the Minnesota River, and his local watershed district, the Lac qui Parle Yellow Bank Watershed District. He has also served on water quality issue committees for Minnesota Farm Bureau and Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Center. He has also put more than a decade of service into the Lac qui Parle County Planning and Zoning Commission.

“I have a deep respect for water,” said Craigmile. “We live and farm in area where the water resources are challenged. There’s no beneficial interest to the farmer for screwing up our groundwater or our lakes and streams. Lots of farmers have lake property. We are all part of it.  We’re all in it together. We are going to do our part. I would never say agriculture doesn’t have an impact on water but I would say that farming’s impact is, for the most part, unintentional. We are all involved. I like to tell people that none of us can drink a glass of water without impacting water quality. The minute we begin planning and using this resource we change it. Our medications are ending up in the water courses and may end up being a far more negative stressor than nitrogen. Humans have modified the landscape. We need to respect each other and work together and see what can be done.”

See Craigmile’s article in full at http://mankatofreepress.com/letters/x2145130755/My-View-For-farmers-conservation-is-key

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