Editor’s note: This week, several articles appeared in newspapers across the state blaming farmers for allowing tons of poultry waste and liquid manure into the Shenandoah River. Below is a response from cattle and grains farmer Nathaniel Dirting of Shenandoah County:
A lot of things come to mind when I think of challenges on the farm. I think about fighting the weather – constantly worrying if the crops will have enough rain water – worrying about the possibility of hail or severe winds – worrying if a late frost could kill the early corn we were so fortunate to get planted. I think about fighting diseases in our crops and sickness in our cattle. I think about fighting the markets as prices for our commodities constantly change due to circumstances beyond my control.
But one very real fight I have come to realize is one I never thought I would have to put up – having to fight negative public perception.
I read an article earlier today in the Washington Post (and also published in the Northern Virginia Daily) titled “Nearly 200 million chickens, turkeys and cows are making a mess of the Shenandoah River”.
My first response was anger. How could anyone say such a thing about agriculture in my community? Making a MESS of the river? After so many efforts on my own family farm have gone towards fencing livestock out of ponds, creeks and tributaries – the title is misleading at best, and in my opinion, down right slanderous to agriculturalists.
My anger soon calmed, and turned into sadness. An aching sadness that’s been eating away at me all day. Do people really think farmers are out to get them? Do people really believe that we would intentionally pollute or poison the very resources we depend on for our livelihood?
I feel fortunate each and every day that God has blessed me with the opportunity to care for his beautiful creation. I’m a third generation farmer on my family farm and I look forward to protecting the business and the resources it will take for this farm to continue to the fourth generation. Am I going to try and convince everyone reading this that the practices implemented on our farm are perfect? Of course not! Do you always throw that aluminum can in the recycle bin instead of the trash? – do you ride a bike instead of driving your car? Did you ditch your smart phone because the manufacturing process is harmful to the environment?
My point is this – we are all human. We all make an impact on the environment around us. As an avid agriculturalist I pride myself in being a steward of the land. I do the very best I can to ensure that what I have will be cared for and left better for those who come after me. It really hurts and strikes me deep when I am accused of doing the exact opposite.
Have a question about agriculture? Ask a farmer. I would be glad to share my story with anyone. But please do not jump to conclusions assuming we are out to get you. I feed my two beautiful children the same food that I produce for you and your family. We are all in this together.
7 thoughts on “‘We’re All In This Together’- A Valley Farmer’s Response to ‘Mess’ article”
Well said Nathaniel.
Thank you for your heartfelt response to
radical accusations from people who most certainly have no understanding nor do they choose to understand the integrity
Of the farmers in this beautiful valley
It is difficult enough to deal with the expense of farm operations and the effects of weather, do farmers now need to prove their knowledge and respect of our environment ? Those who enjoy causing
Unfounded controversy and upheaval
Are usually politically motivated.
Try to find why this gives you pleasure
Don’t direct your eccentric angry ways toward our peaceful hardworking farm community! Have you no knowledge where your food supply comes from?
I don’t really understand this rebuttal. What is it supposed to mean? Something about throwing your cellphone into an aluminum trash bin? There are no facts in here. I totally understand the idea of using a public forum to discuss your side of an argument but there is nothing in this article at all. Pleas explain what it means.
I agree that this rebuttal contains very little in the line of facts. I was quick to respond emotionally because I felt it was necessary to show how such an accusation makes farmers feel. My aluminum recycling, bike riding and cell phone using references were to show comparisons. We all make choices that have environmental impacts.
Now I do have a few facts that I can share. This article insinuates that poultry litter is applied without regulation and contains more nutrients than the surrounding farmland can absorb. This simply isn’t true. My farm has a nutrient management plan. We also work with a poultry farmer who has one. All litter is tested for nutrient levels and then applied as needed. If we don’t need phosphorus on a field, we apply commercial fertilizer instead so we can specify the amounts of nitrogen and potassium we need.
Above all in my opinion, this article insinuates water quality is declining. Whereas the trend according to Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is the exact opppsite. The condition of the Chesapeake bay and its watershed are in ever improving condition.
Thanks for asking questions to clarify. I want to be sure everyone understands and sees all perspectives.
Nathaniel thanks for sticking up for yourself, not everyone conducts their business like you do, and folks need to know that. Thanks for producing what we need to survive.
The nutrient management plans used by Mr Dirting and other farmers in the Valley are a very important approach to helping the Shenandoah. Keeping the soil on the land and reducing nutrient application on farms and urban areas is the only way to reduce non-point source nutrients in the Shenandoah. The vast majority of nitrate gets to the river in ground water and not overland runoff. Phosphorus gets to the river on soil during intense rain storms that erode the soil. It is nutrients and river flow conditions that can promote the growth of algae. Until nutrient applications to the land are reduced and soil is kept from eroding there will be algae problems in the Shenandoah River and major tributaries. The two major conclusions on this topic from the USGS on Smith Creek a North Fork Shenandoah tributary are:
It will likely be years before the cumulative effect of these practices can be detected in the Smith Creek water quality, and the magnitude of the effect of these conservation practices detected in Smith Creek will depend largely on whether nutrient loading (of manure and commercial fertilizer) is reduced over time.
I think agriculture needs to be very deligent in controlling what we put on our land and how we present our efforts to the public. Most of us use best management practices and the results have been positive. I think any conversation should include the fact that home owners for the most part use way more fertilizer per acre than farmers and have little or no limits. We all need to to continue making smart decisions about water quality.