Don’t poop on the idea of manure as fuel, Part 1


Let’s use poop for fuel instead of choking the nation’s lakes with algae growth.

Now, in case you’re thinking, “he’s spending too much time in the sun,” hear me out. This is serious and it makes a lot of sense.

There’s little doubt that farming is the single biggest contributor to widespread algae blooms now marring the nation’s rivers and lakes. And farmers are doing too little to stop the devastating phosphorus runoff. Indeed, millions of acres that were once grasslands for conservation are now planted mostly in corn because the ethanol debacle makes corn very profitable.

On all farm fields, large amounts of phosphorus-loaded poop (aka livestock manure), along with artificial fertilizers, are spread and the runoff flows right into adjacent waterways. A study just released by the University of Michigan Water Center reports that current efforts to keep phosphorus out of our lakes and rivers is falling drastically short of a 40 percent reduction agreement between the U.S. and Canada.

Make no mistake: these bacterial algae blooms produce a toxin that can affect humans, cause lakes and beaches to be closed, turn the water’s surface into a smelly green muck and cause “dead zones” where there’s so little oxygen that fish can’t survive. Last summer saw record algae blooms. I shudder at the prospects for this summer.

Do you think as boat retailers we should be loudly calling for more action?

The Michigan study focused on the Maumee River watershed that includes 17 counties in northwestern Ohio and sections of Michigan and Indiana. High phosphorus runoff from this heavy farming region is known to be the primary cause of toxic algae blooms that have crippled Lake Erie as a drinking water source for cities and a great place for boating and fishing.

I admit to a stronger-than-usual feeling about Lake Erie, having raised our children with boating on this Great Lake for nearly 40 years. It’s not just Lake Erie, of course. Lakes once crystal-clear all over America are suffering algae blooms now.

A man I respect and have known for many years, Dr. Jeff Reuter, past director of Ohio Sea Grant at the Ohio State University, is a recognized expert on Lake Erie. He has reportedly said that some cropland is already so overloaded with phosphorus that turning it into grassland or wetland is the only way to end runoff. He is undoubtedly right.

Moreover, we should have little patience for spokesmen like Joe Cornely of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, who claims such a requirement (conservation grasslands) could drive farms out of business. In a thinly veiled attempt to deflect the overwhelming evidence, Cornely has criticized the study for focusing only on farming in the Maumee basin instead of other sources such as sewage treatment plants. Really?

It’s also notable that right now Ohio and Michigan rely largely on voluntary compliance with badly needed improved farming practices. However, too few farmers are actually participating, according to the study. Meanwhile, farm groups have indicated they need a couple of years to study the situation. That response is tantamount to hiring the law firm of Dilly, Dally and Delay.

So hold on. How does this figure into some poop power deal, you’re asking? After all, you got roped into reading this blog by the headline. To the point we need to advocate for wider thinking and much faster action, that’s where the power in poop comes in. And, if you’ll return here to Dealer Outlook on Thursday, I’ll share some fascinating thinking about just what poop can do.


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