The Environment Around Us: Even On the Farm It May Not Be What It Seems

It happens often.  At age 48 I often take time to question myself.  It’s not that I’ve lost any of my confidence.  In fact at this wily age it’s just the opposite.  However, I do it because over time I’ve realized that not everything is always, as it seems.

Hopefully in this years soybeans fields everything will be that way.  However watch out for some new “bugs” being released to fight that varmint soybean aphid.  I learned last week that South Dakota University scientists are set to release an “Asian Wasp” to fight soybean aphids.  The wasp which scientific name is “Binodoxys communis” is native to China and is set for release this summer. The Binodoxys wasp attacks only aphids, laying eggs in their bodies that, when they hatch as larvae and eat the pest from the inside.

At first glance I thought this the best news I’d heard in years.  Soybean aphids cause millions of dollar of damage and headaches for producers.  I’ve had my battles with them.  However widespread pesticide spraying is one management option, which seems to work.  However, I cringe on how it affects my environment.  Remember an earlier column about what happened to North American honeybees.

I say this because over the last week I’ve seen many media reports about being more environmentally conscious. In fact much of the media hype has been about the health effects in our environmentally unconscious world.  It would seem “what’s out there” isn’t so good.  The question I have is this really news?

In my younger days I’d scoff at any link between environmental degradation and its effect on our health. However, that all changed a couple of years ago.  I made my annual trip to the doctor to get my checkup.  Everything was O.K.; in fact the doctor said I was in pretty good shape for my age.  Nonetheless he told me like everybody else who lives in southwestern Ontario you’ve got spots in your lungs.

Well I looked at him like he had two heads.  What?  What’d you mean like everybody else in southwestern Ontario?  He answered by telling me most people in southwestern Ontario have some type of spots in their lungs because of the environment we live in down here.  Whatever it is, the pollution in our air over time will do that.  Dah, you could have knocked me over with a spoon.  I didn’t want any spots in my lungs.  My biggest crime was being born and raised in southwestern Ontario.

Well, I didn’t run out and join Greenpeace over night.  However, it changed me forever.  As an agricultural economics writer I often get to write about the grimy, meandering river which money flows down.  As the river gets grimier, I never took a lot of time to reflect on the true cost of how many people that affects.  Sustaining an environment where people can strive in a healthy manner needs to get renewed emphasis in 2007.

The problem is its not so simple.  And then again, what you can’t see, hear or taste might be even spookier.  Points being we can all see pollution, but we cannot necessarily explain the invisible effects of how our environmental degradation over time has affected us.  How about things like “tingle voltage” and “garbage voltage” straying from the Ontario grid?  How about the effects of continued herbicide and pesticide use on North American cropland over time?

That last one is close to home.  Ever since I was young I’ve sprayed chemicals on the farm.  In my younger days I was cavalier about it, even careless.  I used to be able to tell if I had the right rate applied by how it smelled wafting over the open face tractor.  Now, I cringe when I think about it.  Spraying pesticides to kill bugs, an increasing practice in today’s modern Ontario agriculture may be causing further problems.

So along comes this Asian wasp flying out of South Dakota to a farm near you.  Sure they might get to Manitoba first, but invariably they’ll show up in Ontario.  How all the other “bugs” which interact within our environment will be affected nobody really knows.  If its cuts down on pesticide spraying and the end of the aphid menace, more power to them.

So I don’t know.  I don’t know what I don’t know.  I’ve just got done spraying 100 acres of corn amid the smell of dicamba.  Along with that, wafting over us is so much pollution from far; far away it’s easy to just forget about it.  However, as farmers keep in mind there may be long-term health effects from some of the things we do.  You think I’m crazy?  Hmmmmmmm.  Remember, not everything is, as it seems.