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Farmers Police Missouri Waterways

by Scott Dye
Columbia, Missouri

"We owe it to our ancestors to preserve entire that which they have entrusted to our care."
Sir Phillip Francis, 1769

America's farmers have sometimes been perceived as damaging the environment. In fact, family farmers have always been good stewards of our nation's natural resources, utilizing the best tools and technologies, and employing sustainable farming practices. Good stewardship is mandatory if you intend to have anything of quality to pass along to future generations. It is a system that has safely, successfully, and economically fed our nation and a growing world for over 250 years.

When the hog giants Premium Standard Farms and Continental Grain moved into northern Missouri, local farmers knew they had to step up their stewardship role, bracing for the inevitable problems inherent to large-scale factory farming.

That is why 25 of the area's farmers and landowners recently became certified as Missouri Stream Team #714 in the state Water Quality Monitoring Program. The volunteer group intends to keep a watchful eye on Premium Standard and its adverse effects on the region's water quality.

Team #714, comprising members of Missouri Rural Crisis Center (MRCC), Citizens of Lincoln Township and Family Farms for the Future, hosted the Stream Team coordinators for an all-day seminar in Unionville. They studied stream ecology and performed chemical and biological analysis of the state's watersheds. "It will be a scientific process" said Marvin McDonald, president of Family Farms for the Future. The teamwill perform monthly water quality analysis of several streams impacted by PSF's confinement facilities.

The certification for this newly formed stream team was timely, coming during a sequence of eight recent manure spills by the Big-Pig mega-farms of Premium Standard and Continental Grain. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of liquid hog feces and urine escaped. Nearly twenty miles of stream habitat were destroyed and a quarter-million fish killed. "The environmental devastation only underscores the urgent need for this program" stated Rhonda Perry, program director of MRCC. "We are pleased to help sponsor such a worthwhile effort.

Several of the most damaging spills were reported -· not by state regulators- or the hog giants, but by alert local farmers (future Stream Team members) keeping a vigilant eye on their corporate neighbors. "We're excited about getting more landowners and farmers involved in the program due to their close daily relationship with the land" said Robin Tillitt, Stream Team Coordinator for the Department of Conservation.

The volunteer water quality monitoring program is open to the public and it encourages all interested citizens to get involved. The program has certified over 800 volunteers who now monitor approximately 2500 miles of Missouri waterways. The purpose is to educate citizens, and set up an extensive data collection, monitoring, and protection network of the state's stream resources. All training and materials are free and training takes one day.

"It's a great way to get the kids and the whole family involved and take a active role in protecting your local environment," said James Godfry, stream team and MRCC member.

Published in In Motion Magazine June 26, 1996.