No penalty for slob farming

Farmers are planting up to, around, in between and over the line between field and ditch in search of another bushel of corn. A field directly across from Storm Lake Marina runs dirt into the ditch so it can find an easy path to the lake. Just a few sprigs of grass missed the machinery to stand in the way of the mud that does roll. It’s like that all over Buena Vista County and Iowa as a whole.

This bad practice invited a letter to the editor from the county engineer last week asking farmers politely to stop. Farmers will continue politely to ignore him.

That’s because no one wants to step on a farmer polluter’s toes.

It is illegal to farm into road right-of-way, which includes the ditch. Iowa law defines it as an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in prison and a $6,275 fine.

We are not aware of anyone from BV County ever being prosecuted for farming county right-of-way or polluting our lake and streams with wanton soil erosion.

We know that complaints have been heard by local soil commissioners about excessive soil losses from certain parcels, or about how buffers have been pulled out next to streams. Nothing ever is done about it.

Last weekend Buena Vista County recorded soil erosion of up to one ton per acre within the Storm Lake Watershed. That is considered an “acceptable” loss. Now, if we took a ton of black dirt and dumped it down a city storm sewer and were found out, we would be facing a fine and maybe a night or two as a guest at Heartbreak Hotel.

Why no penalty for a farmer who plants the ditch?

Because we would not want to upset or embarrass someone. Especially if you are a county supervisor who is charged with protecting right-of-way, and you cannot cross the slob farmer.

How many times have you heard that farmers are the true conservationists, the real stewards of God’s creation? If they were, they would be out there with scoop shovels taking dirt out of Little Storm Lake and depositing it where God put it, along Powell Creek and not in the lake.

Because farmers are such good stewards, Iowa has adopted a voluntary soil conservation strategy. We can see how well it is working when corn stalks litter the lawns along Bel Air Beach. The Iowa Farm Bureau reports that the strategy is working super duper — about 100,000 acres of Iowa land were planted in cover crops over the winter. There are 26 million acres of land in Iowa.

Most farmers are good stewards. Most want to pass their soil productivity onto future generations. Most realize they are only short-timers on the land.

And then there are the 20% who are knuckleheads.

For them, you need a cop to present them a citation to appear in court for farming in the drainage ditch or road ditch. They cost us all more money in ditch clean-outs, failed culverts, polluted lakes, fewer pheasants and less soil productivity.

We have offered every incentive imaginable to get these scofflaws to be good citizens. Yet they keep doing the same thing.

Throw a farmer in jail once. Just once. Then see if there is grass where the fence once was. We bet it is green.

Value of sheepskin

They arguably were the greatest scientists in Iowa history: Norman Borlaug, Henry A. Wallace and George Washington Carver. Borlaug attended the University of Minnesota on a wrestling scholarship. Wallace and Carver worked their way through Iowa State. Not Harvard or Stanford or even Beloit. So it should come as no great surprise that alumni surveyed by Gallup found that their success and happiness were not dictated by where they studied but how.

The most important criterion for success in college was that the student found a willing mentor from the faculty to set the student on the right course, the venerable pollster (founded at the University of Iowa) reported. Further, the study found that most students passed on their first choice of college to get a better deal on price through a second or third choice. And, Gallup found that student debt was a serious hindrance to starting a new business.

The co-sponsor of the study, Purdue President Mitch Daniels, said this about rising higher education costs:

“I think that schools should have gotten the memo on that already,” the former Republican governor of Indiana said. “You’re hearing it in perfectly legitimate criticism, in public discourse. … And so I think many of the excesses … have run their course.

“At Purdue, we’re a land-grant school. We were put there along with our sister schools to throw open the gates of higher education beyond the elites of this country. And we have got to be serious about it…”

And one more point from Daniels:

“It turns out that student debt hinders our national economy just as it hinders the individual life prospects of students who borrow too much of it. It is past time for leaders in higher education to go to work on restraining costs and making sure our doors remain open to all students who meet our standards.”

He started out by assuming he would not get help from the Indiana Legislature. So his first move was to cut $40 million from the budget. And he remains president a year into the job.