Pollution on the Family Farm Threatens the Environment

Pollution on the Family Farm Threatens the Environment

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Pollution on the Family Farm

When you think of pollution you think of industrial pollution running down a river, or smoke coming out of a factory’s smokestack rising up into the environment. These are all concerns in the world today; however, in this paper will talk about pollution that hits a little closer to home. This paper will discuss about pollution on family run farms in rural America. These pollutions range from private well water contamination to fecal pollution run-off into streams by dairy and beef farms.

One of the major concerns in today’s Agricultural system is the use of water, and the short supply of water. A more immediate problem is nitrate contamination in millions of private well around the country. As one can imagine most of these wells are found on private farms around the United States. Nationally 1.4 million households drink water from private wells with nitrate levels that exceed the federal drinking water standard of 10 parts per million (ppm)( Ready, R., & Henken, K.). There is an estimated damage to a household from drinking water from a nitrate contaminated well to be $635 per year, with a total damage of almost $900 million per year to private well owners (Ready, R., & Henken, K.). Over 25% of the water used by households in the United States comes from groundwater.

One of the major sources of nitrates in groundwater is caused by agricultural activities, including chemicals applied to crops and waste from livestock production (Ready, R., & Henken, K.). The main problem with livestock waste and chemicals is their tendency to diffuse in water, which means they cannot be easily contained or pinpointed to the source. According to a study by the Great Plains Agricultural Council, agricultural land is the largest contributor of non-point source pollution to natural water resources in the High Plains region and throughout the United States. In this survey they found that Nitrate-N was the most commonly detected agricultural chemical in surface and groundwater (Elrashidi, M., Mays, M., Peaslee, S., & Hooper, D.)

Another topic that ties into pollution and threatens water resources is agricultural subsidies provided by the government. A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says that “Agricultural subsidies threaten land and water resources and create artificial incentives to expand farm production” (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).

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With government funds farmers can grow operation, which means farmers use more chemicals, more air pollution from running equipment, and the capability to grow livestock operations. All of these directly affect pollution to the environment. Also more government incentives are being provided to encourage environmentally safe farming practices and fight pollution.

All farming operations large or small require the use of equipment. Most of this equipment runs on diesel fuel, and diesel oil has been shown to disturb the microbiological balance in light clay sand and light clay soils (J. Wyszkowska, J. Kucharski). Diesel oil in a liquid form, as well as the fumes cause small disturbances. The diesel oil stimulated the development of oligotrophic, copiotrophic, sporulating copiotrophic and Actinomycetales and inhibited the development of Azotobacter spp. and cellulolytic bacteria (J. Wyszkowska, J. Kucharski).

Microbacteria levels are very sensitive and very important and when they are adjusted they affects how the plants grow. The soil that was contaminated in the diesel oil test was positively correlated when it comes to Hydrolytic acidity and organic carbon content. It was negatively correlated when it came to soil pH, total exchangeable cations and alkaline cation soil saturation (Wyszkowska, J).

Another major concern on farms today is fecal matter produced by livestock. As mentioned before fecal matter leaches down into the soil and causes high nitrates in groundwater. This can then run into local streams and rivers and cause great damages downstream. Even though animal waste is harmful to water by rising the number of fecal coliforms (FC) and fecal streptococci (FS), municipal sewage was found to have higher amounts of (FC) and (FS). All FC/FS values for pig sources were much less than 1, and if it was larger than 7 it was human-sourced pollution (Chou, C., Lin, Y., & Su, J.). One specific example of this occurred on the Blackwater River in Virginia. Samples from the Blackwater River were found to contain bacteria isolates from livestock, wildlife, and human sources (Booth, A., Hagedorn, C., Graves, A., Hagedorn, S., & Mentz, K. 2003). One of the major problems with this pollution is many dangerous pathogens reside in wildlife and livestock that can be transmitted to humans, through the fecal matter (Booth, A., Hagedorn, C., Graves, A., Hagedorn, S., & Mentz, K. 2003).

An odd example of pollution that was found was on a chicken farm in Ohio. The company is the Ohio Fresh Eggs company which is the seventh largest producer in the country. The company has $7 million hens in all of their facilities (Fowl Play). The company had been in legal trouble before for violations like discarding empty vaccine vials, mixed in with manure in a vacant field which promoted huge swarms of flies. The company was taken over by new owners and called the Buckeye Egg Farm. The new owner didn’t do much better than his predecessor, he was soon sued for polluting a nearby waterway and ordered to pay twenty one neighbors $21 million (Fowl Play). Other counts on the owner included dumping “dead rotting and putrefying animal wastes” in a field. The company in 2004 was one of Ohio’s top emitters of ammonia, which causes skin and lung irritation, and contributes to smog (Fowl Play). This is a terrible example of farm pollution and gives Ag producers a bad name, and is just plain bad management of the land and environment.

Pollution is very evident on farms around the country. The next generation of farmers need to be more responsible and use better management practices.


Booth, A., Hagedorn, C., Graves, A., Hagedorn, S., & Mentz, K. (2003). Sources of fecal pollution in Virginia's Blackwater River. Journal of Environmental Engineering, 129(6), 547.

Chou, C., Lin, Y., & Su, J. (2004). Microbial Indicators for Differentiation of Human- and Pig-Sourced Fecal Pollution. Journal of Environmental Science & Health, Part A: Toxic/Hazardous Substances & Environmental Engineering, 39(6), 1415-1421.

Correlation between the number of cultivatable microorganisms and soil contamination with diesel oil. By: Wyszkowska, J.; Polish Journal of Environmental Studies 14 (3), 2005, p.347-356 (Journal article)

Elrashidi, M., Mays, M., Peaslee, S., & Hooper, D. (2004). A technique to estimate nitrate-nitrogen loss by runoff and leaching for agricultural land, Lancaster County, Nebraska. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis, 35(17/18), 2593.

Farming Subsidies Threaten The Environment. Futurist, May/Jun2004, Vol. 38 Issue 3, p11-11, 1/3p; (AN 12804227)

Lambert, Emily, Forbes, 00156914, 9/4/2006, Vol. 178, Issue 4

Ready, R., & Henken, K. (1999). Optimal self-protection from nitrate-contaminated groundwater. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 81(2), 321.
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