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John's World: Debate Over Potholes & Ducks

Dec 16, 2013

Editor’s Note: John’s commentary from last weekend generated quite a bit of response. We are posting a transcript of his commentary, followed by viewer reaction:

John’s World: One of the most contentious elements of the farm bill debate is cross-compliance…following an approved conservation plan on your entire farm to qualify for government support. Farmers in general hate this rule. It’s a minor headache for me. But as the Corn Belt moves north and west, thanks to climate change, farmers in Minnesota and the Dakota’s are looking at thousands of potholes and thinking, "if only we could drain and plant corn in those wet spots?" Unfortunately, those potholes are important habitat for waterfowl, so hunters especially want to keep them in place. Some wildlife experts’ say as many as a third of the migratory fowl could disappear without the potholes. At the risk of offending Duck Dynasty fans, I have to say my response to that population decrease is "okay by me". Why would lowering the duck population be such a disaster as long as it did not truly endanger any species? This is not the same category as poaching elephants or rhino for their ivory, after all. And the farms of America are not responsible for providing entertainment for hunters, in my opinion. How do we even know current waterfowl populations are the right ones anyway? Meanwhile, across the border in Canada, farmers are not similarly restricted and their potholes are rapidly disappearing. Of course, the way I would do this is not through ending cross compliance, but ending crop insurance subsidies. I bet ducks can adapt and so can farmers.

Viewer Response #1: You have successfully done it again. You have angered duck hunters and farmers at the same time. I am sure you would spend the money you save on crop insurance subsidies on additional food stamps. GREAT CHOICE!!! Stephen Palmer

Viewer Response #2: John, I liked your comments about the ducks and farmers not being responsible for hunter’s recreational pleasure. However, I am a farmer in Southeast South Dakota and I think you missed the most important part of the topic. We farm through all of the so called "pot holes" that hunters and conservationists are referring to. These "pot holes" aren't wet lands with standing water and cattails growing in them. They are a low spot in a field that we farm through 95% of the time. The problem is that we can usually get a crop "mudded" through these spots; however they just turn into an unproductive weed filled mess. When fall comes and we combine through these spots the corn doesn't amount to anything and the beans are non-existent. If we tile these "pot holes" we can farm through them and they become some of the most productive areas of the field. I am all too familiar with these "pot holes" and they are just a nuisance. I never see any wildlife living there because there isn't standing water. These pot holes are not a wildlife filled haven that we are trying to ruin. They are merely a weed patch that we would like to be able to grow something in. Thanks for what you do. We really enjoy your show. Scott Larsen - Larsen Farms, Viborg, S.D.

Viewer Response #3: This email is for a segment called "John's world." In it, John talks about the prairie potholes and waterfowl habitat. he goes on and states that they should drain the potholes for farming. That waterfowl can adapt to a new location. My question is, how educated are you about the prairie potholes and the millions of breeding waterfowl and migratory birds that uses this region. I ask of you please go to a Duck Unlimited event to learn the importance of this potholes. Waterfowl and other birds lose their habitat almost daily. They can't simply lose another place. "So what's the big deal if they lost the prairie pothole region?" I will say "MILLIONS"…millions of birds in the sky for not only this generation, but for future generations to come. Thank you for your time. And God bless!
Travis Archie

Viewer Response #4: Fargo/Moorhead plans to build a billion dollar dyke to protect the city from flooding along the Red River. (Many acres of rich farmland will be put under water). Why the dyke? For one thing, many of the potholes that slow down the spring melt along the river have been drained, tiled, or plowed up - just so a couple hundred farmers along the river can grow another 10 acres of corn or beans on their property. Who wants to look out and see beans and cornfields only? Mostly those who will cash in on it. This is Minnesota. Our country already has an Iowa. God calls us to be good stewards of the land.
PS. I have farm roots, but I like to see the ducks, and honestly the last few years I haven’t seen that many. Donna

Viewer Response #5:  Wow your comments about ducks learning to adapt and the reduction of the waterfowl population because of the filling in and farming of prairie pot holes and how  "it works for me". Just goes to show, you really don’t care about what you leave for the next generation as long as you can make money today. And the farm community tries to call themselves conservationists. Most of the farm community is only a "conservationist" if the government pays them to save a certain part of the environment, and even then they do a lousy job of it.  You made some of the most short sighted comments I have ever heard from you. David - Cambridge, IL

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COMMENTS (3 Comments)

Fanny Farnsworth - Otter Lake, MI
Dear John, My husband and I look forward to the show every weekend. I think these "potholes" you speak of are what are called Vernal Pools. They are indeed an important wetland, and contrary to the belief that all wetlands have year round standing water and cattails, these springtime pools are habitat and breeding area for a very select group of animals and plants. That is, if one only stood still long enough to notice and count them, which someone has, 358 species counted in my Great Lakes State Vernal Pools. They are only feet across to one acre in size, occur at just about any elevation, in fields or woodlands, collecting spring run-off and usually dry up or nearly dry up most years by late summer or fall revealing foods sources for other wildlife. Some of those "weeds", are food, the pool next to my house, only 28 feet round, fed nearly 80 hummingbirds displaced by the drought and wildfires season before last with its jewelweed. Of course, like all wetlands, they also filter the ground water, and are part of the larger fresh water system of which The Dakotas, Minnesota, the Great Lakes, the Mississippi and the Ohio River Valley provide right on down to the south. I mean, we are not talking about potholes in the road, now thats a real problem.
I do love the beautiful farms of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, where I live and have family. My great grandfather was a Dakota farmer and one thing my grandfather said was that he never went hungry a day in his life, even during the Great Depression. The new techniques for farming are wonderful for production, but we do need to remain conscience of our natural resources and protect our land and water. With the great new cultivation equipment making the fields seamless, that is no rough fencerow, Michigan has lost 85% of its ground nesting Quail and loggershrikes. That will be putting them on the endangered list. Can you believe that? So who needs more ducks, or quails? Or Michigan's only little land tortoise, the box turtle which needs the Vernal Pools to breed and survive? Hmm, well, I guess we will figure out where to draw the line sometime.
Fanny, Tuscola County, MI
7:57 AM Jan 4th
john lindquist - evansville, MN
"John's world editorial" John, have you taken a look at southern minn or iowa? What do we have on the once natural landscape for flood control? how about a place for critters to live. Water quality, well it's gone withe passenger pigeon. what happens when we have no more bees for pollination? You really don't get it do you. John Lindquist
7:11 AM Dec 24th


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