In visiting with Oregon farmers near McMinnville in late August about how a 30-year-old dump site that has grown to a mountain is threatening to leak toxics into neighboring wells and contaminate land, I had pause to wonder who was really to blame.
Sure, land was sold by farmers themselves long ago. But while the land deal did not come with any awareness of how big the dump would grow, it still seems that the growers who did the deal should have realized the potential of future problems.
This is not the first time that I have listened to complaints by farmers who are caught up in a problem created by producers who sell their land to be used for purposes that might conflict with local age interests.
While those farmers now complaining of the problem of the dump may not have been the same ones who sold the land, it remains that the popular perception will be to blame ag for its own problems. There is something to consider in this argument, I think, when folks who read about this problem are unsympathetic.
This scenario has comparisons to the Conservation Reserve Program situation in which producers in a particular community tie up land in federal contracts and decide not to farm, resulting in dilution of the ag business on the local level, affecting disgruntled neighbors who say area businesses dry up and grain elevators close because there isn't enough money in the regional economy.
Certainly, ag often hurts itself, and blame should not so much go to those who operate dumps or federal CRP programs as it ought to go to farmers deciding to jump on these lucrative bandwagons.
It makes it hard to defend these situations when in the end it was producers themselves who made them possible.
If a big dollar value is suddenly attached to your land in terms of a potential sale, or if you can get $50 an acre for not growing – as CRP offered many – it is difficult to refuse even though you may have concerns about the impact of your decision on neighbors. The choice to take the offer is particularly enticing if you are considering retirement, or if farm income is down year after year, as was the situation when CRP was launched.
It isn't my intent to blame, but to simply point out that some or our rows of woes we plowed ourselves, and should be careful to when pointing fingers when three of them are still directed at us.
My editorial sympathy remains with the Oregon farmers, mainly because the dump is being operated in a hazardous manner and that is simply wrong, regardless how the region got itself into this mess.
Look for a feature on the Oregon dump in our October Western Farmer-Stockman, and related information on our website at www.FarmProgress.com.
We'll also be writing an editorial under the Our Say column in October that will explain my personal feelings about the McMinnville dump site, and the potential for it to contaminate neighboring farmlands into the distant future.