Foaming hog feces casts stewardship, voluntary NRS in doubt

Fecal foam thicker than ever, paddlers say


Ray Harden and I have been wanting to paddle on the Raccoon River the past few weeks. The river had finally cleared up after six months of top soil, nutrients, manure and algae flowing down the river past my farm in Dallas County.

We decided that we would float from Dawson to Perry to take a good look at Sportsman’s Park bluff. Hundreds of tons of bank have been sliding down into the river over the past few years due to increased surging of the Raccoon.

Unfortunately the recent heavy rains washed soil, manure and nitrogen from the newly plowed fields up stream. By Saturday the full blast of dirty water from Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties arrived in norther Dallas County.

The slumping river bank at Sportsman Park near Dawson shows the effects of erosion.
The slumping river bank at Sportsman Park near Dawson shows the effects of increased surging in the North Raccoon River. Photo by Ray Harden

I have never seen hog manure foam so deep as it was on this trip.

“With all this bacteria-formed foam, there must be a lot of manure in the water,” Harden said. Organic fertilizer is a significant contributor to Iowa’s poor water quality but is not the only one, as the Des Moines Water Works explains in “What’s that foam on the river?

It appears to me that the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is not being embraced by our friends up river. Buffers would help with this problem. When the price of corn was high, our farmers had to plow up conservation acres for the profits. Now that the price of corn is down, they have to plow every acre just to break even.

It seems that the only way to get cooperation from the “Industry Farmers” is pay them more than their crops are worth to plant something else. That would take billions, according to some estimates.

Whatever happened to stewardship?


  1. Mike is correct about those “LDPs,” loan deficiency payments, that we taxpayers provide to industrial-scale mega farming in order to “compensate” them for the below-cost prices they earn when the market is flooded with too much corn and soy. Who is laughing all the way to the bank? The big hog factories that that then get to buy cheap-o corn and soy to feed the hogs — that create the sewage — that poisoned the water — that Mike and Ray try to paddle in — that my dogs and kid can no longer play in — that is an embarrassment to Iowans who have a shred of conscience — all living in the house that Terry Branstad and his friends, Brent and Bruce Rastetter, Monsanto and the Iowa Farm Bureau built.

    We are subsidizing an industry that poisons our water. How stupid can we be?

    • i agree 100 percent. I haven’t lived in Iowa in about 20 years, but I grew up there, and I remember north and south Twin Lakes being polluted one summer to the point where we couldn’t swim. It was a drag. Years later, I visited, and the smell of hog confinements was enough to cut my visit short and head back to Colorado, where pigs and people don’t mix. Good luck with all that. I truly hope the people can get active locally and demand a better way. You can do it.

  2. Mike — Sadly, I need to say I agree with you. I’m a farm owner, not a “farmer,” and over the years I also have seen the buffers come and go – depending on the market! I drove gravel roads from Perry to Paton a few days ago, and I saw one farmer with cover crops planted at that time! I saw a lot of manure being spread on the land from the confinement buildings! Hopefully, more cover crops will show up in the next week or so! We have a govt. wetlands project on our farm — it makes the farm far less valuable because we took land out of production for the good of the environment!

  3. We need a nitrogen tax, a fund that everyone along the supply / profit chain pays into – including those of us who buy pork at the grocery store. Such a fund would be available to farmers who want to implement sound and sustainable practices on their land or to municipalities who are currently shouldering the burden of nitrate etc. run-off.


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