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Dirt equals happiness

Friday, September 05, 2014 - Updated: 7:47 AM

Who took our summer? It's September already.

Sure was a hard year for putting up baled hay. Report after report puts many farmers' harvest 30 percent or more lower than last year, which wasn't exactly a banner year for hay.

And as fall leaps upon us like a leopard on a gazelle, big changes and concerns loom on the farm horizon. Some of those changes occurred in the safety net provided for dairy farm milk prices with the passage of the new Farm Bill. As of Sept. 2, a new program called the Dairy Margin Protection Program, which is planned to help when cost of production drops below the price of milk, opened for enrollment. Farmers must comply with conservation provisions to be eligible, and enrollment will continue until Nov. 28 for 2014 and 2015.

According to Morning Ag Clips, producers must remain in the program until 2018 and pay a minimum administrative fee of $100 each year. There is quite a lot of information available to interested producers, both at meetings being held on the topic and at However, I don't think our two milk cows will qualify.

Meanwhile, under pressure from Congress, the EPA finally released maps designating all the nation's waters and wetlands over which they intend to take control under changes to the Clean Water Act. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association claims that under proposed changes individual states will face up to 100,000 additional miles of affected waterways. In Feedstuffs, Andy Vance quoted NCBA environmental counsel Ashley McDonald, "... because the proposal goes so far as to include ditches in the definition of a "tributary" under the act, any activity near a ditch will now require a federal permit, meaning that farmers and ranchers will routinely need to acquire permits for activities done on their land."

I checked out the map of New York and found it alarming. Most of the state was stippled, striped and spotted with blue, yellow, red, brown and green, indicating various perennial and intermittent bodies of water of all sizes and volumes.

However, there were no geographical labels. No names on any waters, no county boundaries, nothing to show you which little blue squiggle or red square is where or what. It was at once a great volume of information and yet none.

I guarantee that these maps, which cover all the states, cost somebody a lot of money. Most probably "somebody" is you and me and all the other folks who may soon find the puddle in the driveway to be under government control.

This rule has the potential to force the way people farm in a dangerous direction, making it much more expensive to do business, therefore increasing the cost of food for all. According to American Farm Bureau's President Bob Stallman, "That's why Clean Water Act jurisdiction over farmlands amounts to nothing less than federal veto power over a farmer's ability to farm."

Later this month, AFBF plans to release its own maps detailing the bodies of water to be affected. It will be interesting to see if there is more information of a more useful nature included.

If you are uncomfortable with this huge increase in government oversight, you might want to get in touch with your Congress folks.

You can also visit Farm Bureau's Ditch the Rule site to subscribe to updates on the issue and to comment on your feelings on the new regulations. There is also a large amount of up-to-date information on this ongoing saga of EPA overreach.

Speaking of reaching. An interesting story in Modern Farmer suggests that working in dirt makes us happy for a scientific reason.

I have long noticed that most folks share a certain deep-seated connection with the soil. Heck even the most office-bound among us takes delight in nurturing a spider plant or philodendron in the harsh, unfriendly environment of the not-so-great indoors.

Many people work full-time off-farm jobs in order to farm on the side, producing little revenue and a lot of headaches. They love what they do and would sacrifice mightily to continue to do it. Others dedicate their entire lives to farming on a larger scale. They deal with ever-changing, intricate rules like WOTUS, all the while farming better every year in order to compete on world markets, while dealing with the whims of weather, the follies of livestock, and the absence of much that most people take for granted, such being on time for school programs and taking weekends off.

Although this is certainly done with an eye to profit, often there is greater profit to be had with much less effort by pursuing other careers.

However, it has always seemed to me to be part of being human to in some way love other living things, be they green plants and forest trees, wild birds at the feeder, pet cats on the windowsill watching those birds, or 1,000 dairy cows munching at the feed bunk in a sprawling freestall barn.

Now, scientists have proposed a potential physiological reason for this possible connection. According to the article, scientists from Department of Integrative Physiology and Center for Neuroscience at University of Colorado-Boulder and others have postulated that we humans are not individual organisms, but rather ecosystems with symbiotic relationships with assorted benevolent bacteria. "A human is not an individual. We are ecosystems. At least 90 percent of the cells in a human body are microbes, most of them living in the gut," says Graham Rook, professor at the Centre for Clinical Microbiology at the University College London."

They then took this a step farther and suggested that contact with soil microbes benefits health in a number of ways, including enhancing mood and happiness level.

Dirt equals happiness.

I know a lot of farm kids who could get behind that notion.

Thus, I guess it would be a good idea to get outdoors this fine September (after we contact Congress, of course) to commune with those microbes and enjoy the good green earth.

Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS

is a regular columnist. She blogs



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