Improving Old
MacDonald's Farm xPH0^
Protecting streams from "fruited plains"
A mher waves of grain ...
/I above the fruited plain.
x JL you probably recognize these
phrases from '"America the Beauti-
ful" from singing them over and over
throughout grade school. The grain
and the plains are still out there. In
fact, the United States has more than
330 million acres of agricultural land
producing an enormous supply of
food and other products.
Unfortunately, those plains are
also producing a whole lot of pollu-
tion. A recent national Water Quality
Inventor}? found that polluted runoff
from agricultural activities is the lead-
ing source of water pollution in rivers
and lakes. Plus, it is the third-largest
cause of pollution in estuaries, as well
as a major factor in unclean ground-
water and the destruction of wetlands.
In fact, 31 states contribute pollutants
to the Mississippi River, resulting in
an area of low oxygen in the Gulf of
Mexico called the Dead Zone.
One important source of water
pollution caused by farming activities
is called sedimentation. Sedimentation
occurs when wind or water runoff car-
ries soil particles and dumps them into
a nearby lake or stream. Too much
sediment can cloud the water, which
reduces the amount of sunlight that
reaches aquatic plants. It can also clog
the gills of fish or smother fish larvae.
Another source of pollution is
animal waste. By keeping animals
such as hogs and cattle within certain
small areas or lots, farmers can feed
and care for those animals more easily
than if they were allowed to roam un-
checked. However, these small areas
can become overloaded with animal
waste—very overloaded. Check out
these manure totals in the United
States in 1999:
•	Beef cows - 624 billion pounds
•	Dairy cows - 409 billion pounds
•	Hogs - 242 billion pounds
•	Poultry - 146 billion pounds
Added together, these animals
produced nearly one billion tons of
waste in just one year!
Runoff can cam this waste into
nearby lakes or streams, bringing with
it dangerous bacteria and viruses if
heavy storms come through or if the
waste systems break down. When
Hurricane Fran flooded much of eastern
North Carolina in 1999, some waste
lagoons burst, sending tons of animal
waste into areas inhabited by people
and into water sources used by people.
it's not just animals, though.
Chemicals in pesticides, herbicides,
fungicides, and fertilizers are a third
cause of water pollution. Pesticides,
herbicides, and fungicides are used to
kill pests such as crop-eating insects
and to control the growth of weeds
and fungi. Fertilizers are used to feed
crops and make them grow faster and
healthier. Unfortunately, chemicals
used to kill bugs and weeds can also
damage other things. These chemi-
cals can enter and contaminate water
in several ways—through use and
overuse in or around the water, from
runoff, or by the wind. And their
effects can be deadly. The chemicals
can kill fish and other wildlife, poison
food sources, and destroy the habitat
that small animals use to hide from

Poultry farms produced 116 billion pounds of manure in a single year.

1 Let's
/ mm Go
^ V —j Surfing
Learn what you can
do to prevent pollution
in your watershed
po I waste/n ps/ag riculture. cfm
EPA has developed a web site
on how you can help prevent
pollution in your watershed.
Check out the information on
*	Sediments and nutrients
*	Confined animal facilities
*	Irrigation
Let's Get
Our Boots
p & ^
Join a 4-H Club
The 4-H program, admin-
istered by the Cooperative
Extension Service of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture,
state land grant universities,
and county governments,
emphasizes projects that
improve the four H's—head,
heart, hands, and health.
Many clubs focus on erosion
control and water quality
Check out the 4-H web site at
In some cases
farmers use animal
waste as fertilizer,
and even though
it's natural, if used
incorrectly it can
do terrible damage
to water resources.
In fact, it can cause
eutrophication, or
algae buildup, which
depletes the oxygen
aquatic organisms
need to breathe.
The bad news is
that erasing these forms of pollution
entirely is practically impossible. The
good news is that there are steps farm-
ers and ranchers can take to reduce the
amount of pollution that comes from
farms and ranches. For starters, they
can reduce the amount of soil erosion
and sedimentation by 20 to 90 percent
by using soil conservation practices.
One way to keep the soil in place is to
make sure as much soil as possible has
something growing in it or placed on it
(like mulch). Plants and their roots help
anchor the soil, keeping it in its place.
And if the soil stays in place, it can't be
carried somewhere else, can it?
Animal waste runoff can be con-
trolled by a good waste management
system. A well-run system can limit
runoff and stop waste from seeping
into underground water supplies.
These systems typically have strong
walls around the waste-filled ar-
eas that won't break or leak. Also,
if managed correctly, much of the
animal waste can be used as fertilizer.
Farmers who carefully spray the animal
waste over their crops can accomplish two
goals: feed their crops and get rid of
much of the stored animal waste in a
useful way. However, farmers need to
conduct soil tests to ensure they are
using only as much fertilizer as the
crops can use.
Similarly, farmers can limit the
damage of pesticides, herbicides, and
fungicides. By doing some research
into the soil makeup, the climate con-
ditions, and the pest history of their
Fencing off natural streams from cattle will reduce
sedimentation and nutrient pollution.
farms, farmers can choose the most
effective and most environmentally
friendly methods to control pests. Al-
though pesticides are the most com-
mon method used to control pests,
many farmers use integrated pest
management (IPM). IPM involves
using a combination of pest-resistant
crops, pesticides, and natural pred-
ators such as lady bugs to reduce
pesticide use. Plus, certain chemicals
work well with certain crops. Match-
ing pesticides, herbicides, and fungi-
cides to all of these specific elements
of farming means that farmers will
also lower the amount of the chemi-
cals they use. And of course, less use
results in less contamination of water

A producer is a fanner >
who grows crops or a
rancher who raises livestock for
food consumption.
An extension agent works with
producers and communities to
help them be more efficient and
environmentally friendly.
An agricultural scientist studies
farm crops and animals and devel-
ops ways to improve their quality
and quantity with less labor, con-
trol pests and weeds more safely
and effectively, and conserve soil
and water.