The sprawling feedlots you see across the Panhandle are living proof that we want our beef tender, and we want it now. Ranchers ship their cattle to the lots, where they get fattened up on corn, animal feed and who knows what else and then head straight to the slaughterhouses. No lazy days in the pasture, chewing hay and grass. Just bulk 'em up so steaks get to our tables and get there fast.
There's no doubt feedlots have revved up beef production. They also have become notorious for the pollution they send into the air and water supplies of rural Texas. Bulked-up cattle produce tons of manure, which can end up in creeks, streams and aquifers, thanks to feedlot runoff. The manure also fouls the air of the communities around these operations.
The Senate's drafting of a farm bill this month gives legislators a chance to review whether feedlots and other large livestock producers are curbing their pollution.
A portion of the legislation will deal with the Environmental Quality Incentive Program. About 60 percent of the billion-dollar program's funds are devoted to livestock producers, which includes everyone from cattle ranchers to pig producers to poultry operations to feedlots.
Under the program, producers propose an air or water quality program and split the costs for its execution (usually in half) with the federal government. The plans often include changes like adding sprinklers to tamp down dust, regularly disposing of manure and improving the runoff system.
All good if you think Texans in the Panhandle and elsewhere have a right to air and water without feedlot gunk in it. But we would caution the Senate to determine during hearings the odds of this program living up to its potential. We need solid conservation, not just bucks in the pockets of livestock producers. Especially since Texas receives more money from this program than any other state.
There's another quid pro quo: Washington needs to effectively enforce the air-and-water laws on the books, not just offer producers incentives to do the right thing. Big producers get food to our tables fast, but they don't deserve a pass when it comes to the quality of rural Texas' air and water.
—The Dallas Morning News