Technology is beginning to play an essential role in American agriculture. Global positioning systems help farmers determine which ground is the most profitable to cultivate. Communications systems help producers reach markets that were once unknown. But some technologies have encouraged production to reach scales that provoke as much controversy as output.
For example Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFO's, are arguably the single most contentious issue in rural America these days. This week, the rancor could be heard in Iowa, where a county commission blocked construction of new large-scale operations.
Fearing possible nuisances, environmental degradation and health problems, the Cerro Gordo County supervisors voted to place a one-year moratorium on any new livestock confinements.
A law enacted in 1998 specifically gave the state of Iowa, rather than local governments the authority to regulate livestock operations. Later that year, the Iowa Supreme Court reaffirmed the State's power.
Nevertheless, Cerro Gordo County officials contend Iowa law gives them authority to establish the moratorium and to develop a health ordinance regulating livestock.
Ron Osterholm, Director, Cerro Gordo County Department of Health: "Our intent is to then develop a good science-based ordinance that protects the public but protects agriculture. And I firmly believe we can do both… we can have our cake and eat it too."
The Cerro Gordo County Supervisors also passed a resolution opposed to Sparboe Farms construction of a large-scale egg farm. The proposed 2.4-million bird operation also has met resistance from several nearby cities.
Slug: Tiles draining into streams
Much of the resistance to CAFO's is directly related to their environmental record. Currently, The Environmental Protection Agency classifies more than 150 Iowa waterways as polluted.
But the pollution isn't due exclusively to livestock.
A recent Iowa State University study claims losses from fall-applied nitrogen may reach 50-percent or more. According to the study, heavy losses occur particularly in years characterized by warm winters and wet springs… in those years the researchers claim, nitrogen losses sometimes reached 80-percent.