Lack of alternatives is problem, not farms
I feel I must respond to the Mailbag letter by Dieter Oelschlaeger in the May 23 issue [``Corn problematic as renewable resource,'' Page 9]. I could not believe what I was reading! Was this some type of joke or just a fountain of misinformation?
Yes it does take gasoline to move a tractor. But it also takes diesel to bring in crude from Saudi Arabia, electricity to refine it and gasoline to deliver it again to a chemical company. But then again, maybe we can convert those tractors to solar power?
Mr. Oelschlaeger then states he is worried about how topsoil has eroded away over the last 500 years. I do not believe this is from farming. Do you think it could be from years of unregulated clear cutting of forests, strip mining, construction sites, landfills or acid rain, just to name a few?
Every farmer I know does everything he can to prevent erosion of his land. His land is his workplace and without it he is out of a job. And besides, there will always be farming if Americans want to eat every day. Is Mr. Oelschlaeger suggesting that we buy our food from foreign sources also?
He asks: Which stream would be brown in color, one from farmed land, or one from unfarmed land? I personally have never seen a brown stream in farmland. But my question to him is: Which body of water is black, one that had an oil spill from a supertanker, or one that has never seen oil transport? Can you guess?
Mr. Oelschlaeger then declares that we should use up every last barrel of someone else's nonrenewable crude oil. Well, Mr. Oelschlaeger, if we did that, where would we get our fuel to go to and from work? How would we travel? Best of all, we would not have gas to run the tractors to plant all that bad corn and every other crop that Americans depend on every day.
We need to research and develop alternatives now, because I for one am tired of seeing more and more landfills spring up all over America due to the fact that our current petrochemical plastics are not biodegradable.
Letter writer can't see future through corn
Mr. Oelschlaeger's letter in the May 23 issue seems to me to be a good example of a short-sighted view for the future. His complaint regarding the renewability of corn misses the point of what can be done if we put our collective minds to solving a problem.
First, stating that tractors must use gas to move ignores the fact that diesel engines using biodiesel can now reduce the energy consumption by 20 percent - without considering the greater efficiency of the diesel engine.
As a good example, the University of Colorado operates its campus bus fleet with fuel produced from fryer fats. Additionally, technology is available to operate vehicles with ethanol. The state of Nebraska uses ethanol-powered vehicles in some of its fleet. Brazil for years has used ethanol as a fuel, produced from its abundance of sugar. With the increasing cost of crude oil, certainly these renewable fuel sources should become of more interest.
As to the loss of topsoil, there seems to be a remedy for this if we work at in a reasonable manner. Again it is something that has been done for many years in Europe. One need drive through the countryside in the springtime to notice the unmistakable odor of ``farmer's perfume'' from the spreading of cow manure well-mixed with straw that farmers accumulate over the winter. Drive by the cattle feed lots in the West and you will see mounds of manure that could be composted to provide large quantities of material to rejuvenate the land. Add to that composting of yard waste, which can provide enriched soil. Use of such materials not only will help build the soil, but will reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers, which now require the use of crude oil.
Certainly we can come up with better solutions than ``using up every last barrel of someone else's nonrenewable crude oil.'' Let's save that oil for making the plastics many of us depend upon for our livelihoods and develop alternate sources for energy.
Robert L. McBrayer
Lincoln Park, Mich.
Claim about farming doesn't hold water
Coming from Arkansas, I'd have thought Mr. Oelschlaeger would have been more supportive of the farming community and not such a chicken-little about what potentially may happen.
As anyone even vaguely familiar with today's agriculture knows, major efforts have been taken (and continue to be taken) to reduce/eliminate soil erosion; and they're paying off. Reductions are being seen in controlled areas formerly devoid of foliage that are now teeming with growth and preventing further erosion.
And if Mr. Oelschlaeger is going to go back a mere 500 years for comparison, he should not confuse soil erosion with soil redistribution. The fertile fields that produced the food that filled his stomach were created by soil that once partially formed the mountains and hills that now surround those fields. Mankind's aggressive building practices and continuing greed are the cause of the soil erosion, not the farmer.
Yes, I know it takes gas and oil to move a tractor. But if you have no fields to plow because you've covered them with shopping malls and houses, and your produce is now 100 percent brought into the country from foreign lands, you won't need that tractor, or people to make them, or people to operate them. Where does Mr. Oelschlaeger propose to get the gas if the price is so high no one can afford to buy it because they have no jobs to pay for it?
Living in a farming area myself, I'd be more than happy to show Mr. Oelschlaeger 20 clear farm streams for every one of his brown streams. His claim doesn't hold water; and Arkansas has enough good trout streams through farms that he should know better. And having family in Arkansas, I'll even come there and show him in his own state.