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"Up a creek "

August 29, 2010
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald
Letter to Editor:

How our farmers have cared for the land has changed over the years. Farming has gone from being labor intensive to cash intensive. Mega farms use speedy implements to apply chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and/or fungicide to a section of farmland and quickly redeploy onto the next large section of farmland. Farm landowners out source much of this work and simply drive by, seeing their holdings from the roadside. Gone is the personal relationship a farmer had in stepping right there on the ground, in his own fields every single day.

The transformation of our farm creeks is a telling sign of this farmer’s more distant interaction with the land. Roll back 50 years; there are ribbons of creeks running across the farmland. Creeks not marked by trees. These creeks have grass ways that bordering the streams.Grasses encouraged for carpeting the earth and hugging the soil to prevent erosion. In addition, the grassy creek banks provide an open aerial view. Hawks and owls flying overhead have clear pathways to sight and grab their prey.

Now days, where the slopes of the fields run down to each other, you will see line after line of trees. These trees sketch out where the creek streams run. Yet, one tree casting its shade eliminates the possibility of grass growing. Multiply the shade of that one tree by tens of thousands and barren ground is now the norm along the banks of countless small creeks in Midwest farm fields.

Ushering in a second plight, the sheltering tree branches hinder flying predators; as a result, the muskrat population has exponentially increased along creeks. Muskrats damage the banks of creeks. Building a den to rear a litter of up to seven pups, a pair of muskrats will burrow into the creek’s bank. A rodent, the muskrat will have several litters a year and continue to dig and hallow out burrows. In a few seasons, the old burrows cave in, causing sink holes. The loosened earth is scoured away by the passing water, carrying away rich soil that took nature hundreds of thousands of years to form.

Today’s farmers are allowing the trees to grow and multiply on the creeks. Maintenance of a creek is not seen as relevant. Current farmers are focused on just the bottom line, profit.

This modern view is uniquely different from our past. At one time about 80 percent of the United States population was farmers. Those farmers, our forbearers, practiced a greater spiritual communion; with their neighbors, in thoughts of future generations, and of conserving nature.

Bare dirt banks over ridden with rodents, is a serious soil conservation concern. Another concern is the attitude of our farmers and how this reflects where we are going as a society.

John Clayton



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