The good news—for readers not involved in the agriculture industry—is that farmers are genuinely passionate for keeping the Earth as clean as possible. The more green our fields are, both literally and metaphorically, the more green goes into our wallet. There are few professions where a healthy planet is so essential to success.
That said, farmers still deal with huge questions about how they can manage their fields in ways that are both planet-efficient and cost-efficient. One of the most challenging of these questions is how to manage the level of nitrates—from both chemical and manure-based fertilizers—that escape fields and enter the waterways.
More good news for non-agrarian readers: Farmers are actively looking for solutions to this problem—using products such as Nancy’s Blankets to build grass waterways—because nitrates that get into the water supply do come back to bite. Here are three ways in which farmers suffer due to fertilizer runoff (you can learn more about how grass waterways prevent runoff here).
I) Physical Health
Ultimately, there are at least two things that come from the rural countryside to the big city: food products and water products. Farmers rely on both of these things as well, but there’s one difference. Although they can just keep what they grow on the farm at the table, rural water often makes its way to urban treatment centers before being pumped back out to taps in farmland.
Farmers can’t just forget about nitrates once the runoff flows downstream, because it ultimately finds its way back. Nitrates in the drinking water can be linked to cancer and heart attacks in adults, as well as birth defects in children. No matter where they live.
Fortunately, technology exists to filter nitrates when they’re detected in the water supply. But that technology is expensive to operate, leading to…
II) Bad Financial Health
…governments looking to farmers to foot the bill. This has been rare thus far, but a 2016 lawsuit by the Des Moines Water Works demonstrates what could be at stake. The Iowa capital sued three counties for more than $1.5 million, alleging that a lack of nitrate monitoring had led to extended use for its filtering equipment.
No one came to the farmers’ doors and demanded payment, of course. But any fines the county must pay will find its way to taxpayers. The costs of cleaning up a mess are so great that most counties and states actually offer financial aid for preventative projects, such as grass waterways and buffer zones.
It benefits everyone to invest in these projects. Better water for our children to drink, better creeks to fish in, and—above all—better produce to consume.