By any measuring stick, the BP Gulf oil spill is an environmental disaster of the first degree. For better than two months now, TV viewers and Internet surfers have been bombarded by images of browning coastal wetlands, dead sea birds covered in pitch-black crude, and undersea pictures of oil gushing out of the ruined feeder pipe embedded in the sea floor. For anyone involved in any of the industries impacted by this crisis, these pictures represent a depressing sight.
Although it hasn’t happened yet, the Gulf oil spill could directly impact the agricultural community in the coming months. According to John Cripe, director of Mid-Co Commodities, Inc., 55% to 65% of the Midwest’s grains are annually exported through the Gulf of Mexico. It’s possible these ships could eventually require routine cleaning due to oil build-up on their hulls, which would add to the upkeep costs and cause the price of shipping these grains to rise as a result.
But besides this direct by-product of the oil spill, agriculture could find itself under an increasingly watchful regulatory eye when its comes to anything that might impact the environment. I know many of the people I’ve spoken with during the past year have said that the level of environmental scrutiny in Washington, DC, and various state capitals has racheted up significantly since the beginning of 2009. Most observers have used a 10-point scale to describe the increased watchdog mentality at work, saying that we’ve gone from a 7 to around a 9.5.
Let me be the first to say it: If our industry was experiencing a 9.5 over the past year on the regulatory front, the Gulf oil spill has probably pushed this number up significantly. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say we are now at a 25.
As always, one of the chief weapons in agricultural’s war chest is education. Many ag retailers have practiced safe environmental stewardship for several decades, and spreading the word about these companies should be one of our main missions.
Throughout this issue, we are highlighting many of the industry’s exceptional environmentalists as winners in the annual Environmental Respect Awards program. Now in its 20th year, this program, sponsored by DuPont Crop Protection, honors dozens of retailers across the country that have demonstrated outstanding environmental and community stewardship practices. Although they may have different ways of doing this, most of these winners share a respect for their surroundings and a desire to do what’s right, environmentally.
“It is our duty to ensure that our industry protects America’s groundwater, sub-surface water, and soil for generations to come,” says state winner Darrell Fellows of Ag Valley Coop. “If everyone in this industry does not do their part, we as an industry will be regulated out of business.”
I couldn’t agree more — especially now that the stakes have been raised as high as the rising tide of oil slowly spreading across the Gulf of Mexico.