Jack Boles, President of the Newton County Farm Bureau, has questioned a column by Mike Masterson which quotes from the Big Creek Research and Extension Team’s (BCRET) recent report of monitoring of the C&H Hog Farm in the Buffalo National River watershed. See, “Argument Flawed” 8-30-18. Since the Arkansas Farm Bureau is funding C&H’s legal fight to keep its operation alive, one can hardly expect objectivity from Mr. Boles. But in this case, Mr. Boles is proving a larger point. It is undisputed that excess nutrients in the Buffalo River create algae blooms which in turn cause water quality degradation. Farming activities (hogs, chicken and cattle), the attendant conversion of forest to pasture and the resulting animal wastes are the primary cause of the decline in water quality in the Buffalo River. Mr. Boles and his organization appear to be just fine with this.
But let’s look more closely at the point Mr. Boles tries to make. He claims that BCRET’s monitoring Field 5a is not receiving wastes from C&H and thus Mr. Masterson’s statement that C&H’s waste is leaving Field 5a is “cherry picking the facts.” What Mr. Boles fails to inform your readers is that the Field 5a catchment area receives agriculture runoff from a much larger area. In fact, it drains an adjoining field and portions of an adjoining farm operation. The BCRET report Mr. Masterson references states that in 2015, losses in surface runoff from Field 5a were 4.46 pounds of phosphorous and 6.97 pounds of nitrogen per acre. See p. 82 of BCRET’s first quarter 2018 report. Although we know that these figures are overstated as BCRET underestimates the acreage that is contributing to Field 5a, this plainly shows that agricultural activities along Big Creek contribute nutrients to the adjacent Big Creek and the Buffalo River.
Tellingly Mr. Boles fails to challenge Mr. Masterson’s article noting BCRET’s results from Field 12 which has received over a quarter million gallons of waste from C&H since 2014. BCRET reports that in 2015, that field lost 45.9% of the phosphorous applied and 24.8% of nitrogen applied. Mr. Boles probably doesn’t mention this field because these results clearly show swine waste from C&H entering Big Creek and the Buffalo River.
C&H continues, year after year, to apply phosphorus far in excess of its rotational grazing needs. The 2017 annual report by C&H shows soil concentrations of phosphorus above optimal for all spread fields. For instance, Field 1 had 190 lbs of phosphate per acre in the soil, plenty for the typical one cow per acre raised in Newton County (23 lbs phosphate/cow). But C&H applied 232 lbs/acre (BCRET, p. 69), 10 times the need. Where does the excess go if not ultimately into the creeks? In the short 2 1/2 mile stretch of Big Creek adjacent to C&H, the mean nitrate level and flow weighted mean phosphorus level increases by about 125% (BCRET/USGS data, 5/1/2014- 2/2/2018). Maybe it’s the school at Mt Judea or the several hundred people in White Township creating the mess, not the million pound hog farm.
No real, rational farmer buys and applies excess fertilizer unless their business is nutrient dumping – socializing their business expenses by making the public pay for the burden for waste disposal in the waterways. And now Big Creek and the Buffalo River are declared impaired by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.
So while Mr. Boles attempts to defend C&H by blaming a neighboring farm for the pollution coming from the area designated as Field 5a, he will have a more difficult time blaming the cause of Big Creek’s impairment on something other than agriculture sources, of which C&H is by far the largest in the entire Buffalo River watershed.
Manure can be a useful agricultural byproduct, but its application doesn’t have to be a menace to our waterways. The Farm Bureau can do better by encouraging farmers to stop phosphorus dumping and by better utilization of nitrogen.