Is a large portion of northwest Minnesota in danger of being converted into a “Green Desert?”
Maybe it has already happened.
It sounds like a contradiction in terms. What is a Green Desert? The term was first coined in 1960s Brazil to describe the devastation caused by cutting down large sections of the rain forest so that eucalyptus trees could be planted. These were harvested for their cellulose.
After just a few years, this form of monoculture soon revealed devastating consequences for the local Brazilian environment, including soil erosion, creation of true deserts, elimination of biodiversity, water pollution and human displacement. Source
Today the term Green Desert is applied to a variety of areas around the world. It’s locations where just one crop is planted in the same area repeatedly, leading to depletion of the soil, the elimination of natural plants and animals in the area, pollution and a slow death of biodiversity in the environment.
This disturbing trend is becoming increasingly apparent in northwest Minnesota.
Up and down the Red River Valley of northwest Minnesota and eastern North Dakota exists some of the most fertile land in the world – deep black soil rich in natural nutrients and few rocks to damage farm equipment.
Every year, more and more of this premium soil is being given over to the planting of “Green Desert” varieties of farm crops, of which sugar beets are becoming ever more dominant.
Sugar beets in turn are processed into nutrition-free, obesity-causing white refined sugar. Eat enough and it rots your teeth, makes you fat and leads to other diseases, especially Type II diabetes.
Furthermore, for sugar beets to be profitable, government intervention is necessary to protect the sugar trade, which costs taxpayers and consumers some $ 2 billion per year. (See: “The Sugar Racket)
Kittson County and Marshall County make up the northwest corner of Minnesota. The number of acres being put into sugar beets is expanding every year. In 2011, Kittson and Marshall County farmers planted 33,400 acres and 44,600 acres respectively – both about 2,000 acres more than the previous year.
The expansion of sugar beet farming in northwest Minnesota has many of the hallmarks of harmful “Green Desert” agriculture. Consider these attributes of Green Desert situations and how they apply to northwest corner of Minnesota, Kittson County:
“Wind and water (soil) erosion is a big problem in Kittson County,” states the latest Kittson County Local Water Management Plan, issued by Kittson Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). Source
The report says that a soil erosion rate of under two tons per acre per year (2T) is the minimum acceptable rate, but some 70% of county land is eroding at an alarming rate of 2T to 5T (2 tons and five tons per acre per year).
The report also indicates that in addition to the long-term damage to the environment, this rate of erosion is costing taxpayers ongoing money to manage. But now even those funds are being reduced, which may result in dire consequences. The report says:
“While the Kittson SWCD has been able to technically and financially help on several erosion projects, the cost share dollars are not enough to make a major impact on the problem. With the recent cut announced for 2010 cost share funding, this situation will only become a larger problem.”
LOSS OF NATIVE HABITAT
The SWCD report says:
“Historically, land cover in the Two Rivers Watershed District was predominantly prairie/grassland (45%), wetland (24%), brush (15%) and forest (15%). Currently, land cover is dominated by cultivated land (66%), while prairie/grassland, wetland, brush and forest now only represent 6%, 13%, 2% and 11% of the land cover, respectively.”
LOSS OF NATIVE ANIMALS LIFE
There is a strong possibility that the largest species of animal in northwest Minnesota – and one of the smallest – are both on the verge of extinction.
Kittson County was once a land “thick with moose” and now they are nearly gone form the area. Although the reason for the disappearance of the moose has puzzled wildlife biologists, they think climate change is a major factor, but also loss of habitat due to expanding Green Deserts is a contributing factor. Source
Even more ominous and worrying may be a drastic reduction of one of the smallest species – the honeybee. A number of recent reports have declared the “honeybee is dead” in the Red River Valley.” On the North Dakota side of the Red River, honey producers recently abandoned the area, saying bees just can’t seem to survive there anymore. See my report HERE
Kittson County has lost 30% of its population in each of the last three 10-Year U.S. Census report. Like the disappearance of moose, the demographics of human population reduction are complex, but as large “Green Desert” farms expand, smaller farmers and other land owners are pushed out.
Additionally, monoculture “Green Desert” agriculture does not tend to create jobs or encourage populations growth – rather it pressures local people to go elsewhere. According to a study of rural America by the Carsey Institute:
…population losses were common on the Great Plains, where the agricultural economy is employing few workers because of productivity gains, population density is low, natural decrease is common and young adults have been leaving in large numbers for generations …
Although the SWCD report rates Kittson County water as “generally good” in a variety of measurements, the federal EPA in 2012 rated Kittson county a tepid 33 out of 100 for water quality where 100 is the best score. The EPA has a complex method of measuring the watershed quality using 15 indicators such as pollutants, turbidity, sediments and toxic discharges. Source
It must be noted that Kittson County is a vast area and tens of thousands of acres are protected in a variety of ways, including farmland enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), land owned by the Minnesota DNR, and thousands of acres owned and managed by private conservation organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy, which holds more than 15,000 acres.
However, harsh agricultural herbicides and pesticides that enter the soil, ground water and surface water don’t obey borders or make distinctions about where it chooses to distribute toxicity within the environment.
What we can clearly observe is that vast acres of petro-chemically dependent monoculture crops are taking a bigger bite out of the total land area every year – and so every year vast areas of northern Minnesota’s habitat are disappearing and being given converted to our own version of a “Green Desert.”
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