Corporations are taking a new approach to farming. They’re combining ethanol production with feeding animals. The corporations need land, water, and a willing community. They turn to economically depressed rural communities and promise jobs. But some researchers think these rural communities could end up with more problems than benefits. Kinna Ohman reports:
Corporations are taking a new approach to farming. They’re combining ethanol production with feeding animals. The corporations need land, water, and a willing community. They turn to economically depressed rural communities and promise jobs.But some researchers think these rural communities could end up with more problems than benefits. Kinna Ohman reports:
Bion Environmental Technologies is just like a lot of big businesses trying to capitalize on the ethanol trend.
Over the past year, people from Bion have been working with local officials in St. Lawrence County, a rural area of northern New York. Bion plans to build their first project there. It’ll be a huge indoor feedlot for eighty four thousand beef cattle and a large corn ethanol plant.
They have everything accounted for – they’ll ship cattle and corn in from the Midwest. They’ll use distiller’s grain from the ethanol plant to help feed the cattle. And they’ll even use manure from the cattle to power the ethanol plant.
Jeff Kappell is a manager with Bion. He says this kind of scale and integration is the future of agriculture. And he thinks it’ll be great for the community,
“Establishing a brand and establishing the ability, the knowledge in a consumer marketplace that there is value associated with activity in St. Lawrence County is a tide that can rise all boats. So we see this as symbiotic.”
But not everyone agrees. They wonder how much water the project will need. And they wonder about pollution from all those cattle.
Shane Rogers knows a lot about pollution from factory farms. He’s a professor of environmental engineering at Clarkson University in St. Lawrence County. He tests for certain pollutants in the water and soil around factory farms. Rogers often finds antibiotic resistant E-Coli and other pathogens. He says that type of discharge can happen every day – even at the best run facilities.
”And these are from operations with good practices. Or what we would call good practice because they’re following nutrient management plans. Because they’re treating their manures the way they’re supposed to be before applying them to land. Because they’re collecting and doing things the way they’re supposed to be. But they still can contribute pathogens to the environment and those pathogens still affect us.”
Rogers says factory farms don’t need to remove these pollutants. But people at Bion say their system will remove a lot of them.
James Morris is one of their engineers. He says they’re motivated to keep environmental impacts low,
“A facility of this sort wants to have the minimum possible environmental liability. Because that lowers the risk and raises the probability of profits. And we’re in the business to make money.
But researchers are still unconvinced. And some think there are better ways to provide meat and dairy products for the country.
Doug Gurian-Sherman’s with the Union of Concerned Scientists. He’s the lead author of a new report critical of large factory farms. He says small and medium sized farms can provide what people need without the risks to those in rural communities.
“When you spread these animals out, and you have smaller operations you have benefits to rural communities in terms of not as many problems with the pathogens, or the odors or the nutrient problems. What we’re talking about are sophisticated, smart alternatives that work with nature rather than against it.”
But Bion insists their large integrated project will work. And they expect to receive millions in taxpayer subsidies to help make it work. It’s unclear what the costs will be to the community. In the meantime, the trend continues. Bion plans to build at least five more of these projects throughout the country.
For The Environment Report, I’m Kinna Ohman.