Behind the Lines – August/September 2009

It’s now debatable whether Rome, anxious to finish off an old Imperial rival, actually ordered its soldiers to sow the fields with salt around the razed city of Carthage so that nothing would grow at the end of the third Punic wars in 146 BC. Certainly, it has been known for many centuries that salt and crop growing don’t mix.

Salt washed or blown off roads into fields and orchards is the topic of this month’s cover story by writer Mary Baxter, starting on page 14. While it’s mostly an issue where delicate horticultural crops are grown in the Niagara area, salt damage to field crops has been reported in other areas of the province, particularly where commuter traffic is heavy.

Road salting is certainly toxic, but it gets an exemption under provincial pollution laws if there is runoff. Keeping highways open and safe by clearing them chemically of snow and slush is a priority in high traffic areas. With populations growing in urban centres around western Ontario in particular, and winter storms becoming more violent and unpredictable, we can expect reports of salt damage to crops to increase.

In October, in our environment issue we will continue with our annual series about sewage spills and bypasses from municipalities. We began this reporting in 2000 at a time when hog farms were being vilified and a majority of the population seemed unaware or unwilling to acknowledge that the problem was bigger than just pig farms and included human waste.

The topic has since received a lot of urban media coverage in early summer as an organization called Ecojustice, formerly known as the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, published its report on spills and bypasses in 2006 and 2007, entitled “Flushing out the Truth.” Cities have some catching up to do in dealing with their overloaded and antiquated sewage systems and urban media still have some catching up to do in writing about it.

Waste, whether human or livestock, is certainly a divisive subject that generally separates along urban and agriculture lines. It’s not the most highly charged subject we’ve brought you over the years, however. Climate change takes that prize.

On that theme in this issue, our Stateside writer, Alan Guebert, challenges one climate change denier to think of how his grandchildren will feel if he’s wrong.

“If I’m wrong, my grandchildren will curse my name,” is the sobering response. Alan’s column appears on page 77.

And on page 74 our veteran weather writer, Henry Hengeveld, explains the impact contrails (those vapour trails left by jet planes) have on climate change.

Robert Irwin & Don Stoneman

Better Farming - August/September 2009