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May 09, 1979 - Image 4

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Michigan Daily, 1979-05-09

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Page 4-Wednesday, May 9, 1979-The Michigan Daily
XMichigan Daily
Eighty-nine Years of Editorial Freedom
420 Maynard St., Ann Arbor, Mi. 48109
Vol. LXXXIX, No. 6-S News Phone: 764-0552
Edited and managed by students
at the University of Michigan

Pivot irrigatio

Nuke protest the
cause stepsf
SUNDAY'S NUCLEAR demonstration in
Washington D.C. not only displays the broad-
based nature of the anti-nuclear movement, but
also exemplifies peaceful protest as a viable
means of public expression. The effects of 65-
125,000 members of the electorate actively voicing
their views on this issue of universal impact are
yet unclear. But the volume of demonstrators as
well as their intensity ensures that politicians,
President Carter included, must respond or lose
Both the cause and methods employed by the
protesters are to be applauded. The use of nuclear
power to supplement our energy needs cannot be
accelerated, much less continued, until the
danger to living organisms is greatly diminished
and eventually eliminated.
The demonstrators put forth their position in an
amiable fashion and no violence erupted. But
their smiles should not be construed as sym-
bolizing insincerity or sheeplike following of a
popular movement. Although many of the
protestors admittedly would not have come if the
Three Mile Island accident had not occurred, the
impetus it provided penetrates more deeply than
blind fear.
It is unfortunate, however, that the presence of
entertainers and politicians led some observers to
discount the foundation of the anti-nuclear
viewpoint. Such figures are perfunctory com-
ponents of contemporary protests, not the true in-
tellectual leaders of the movement. The media
hype which accompanies such events is also un-
fortunate, but it is a natural consequence of the
movement's continued growth.
The rapid growth enjoyed by the movement in
recent weeks is heartening, for it has endured
with pockets of support on the local level for the
better part of a decade. The sophisticated
organization already evident, buttressed by
widespread appeal, promises to make it a
sustaining fixture of the political arena for the
next decade as well.
Many.skeptical observers also allege that rally
attendants are the same individuals who ten years
ago were protesting the Vietnam war. While that
may be true, many middle-aged non-activists also
turned out, claiming deep feelings for this issue. It
is doubtful that 100,000 people would follow a fad
to Washington D.C. for intangible goals.
And the year 1979 provides an educational per-
spective on such protests. No ethnic or generation
gap divides the nation on this issue even though,
rhetoric still abounds on both sides of the fence.
Although protests provide a valuable channel of
expression, they must be followed by decisions
based on sound judgement. We sincerely hope the
lat i ifo m ing.. ,-.. ......'''''.. '''''.'''

In the Middle West, on the High
Plains and on the Columbia River
in the Pacific Northwest, a
mobile irrigation system is
dramatically changing American
Center pivot irrigation is ex-
tending farming to lands
previously unsuited for it anid
changing the face of the land. But
it is also adding to the nation's
growing water and energy
problems and expanding cor-
porate agriculture at the expense
of the family farmer and ran-
and astronauts in space have
seen the huge green disks,
resembling giant poker chips, the
center pivot devices produce on
land that may have been sparse
pasture or desert.
The machines, which cost
$55,000 to $75,000 each, consist of
an aluminum sprinkler pipe,
usually a quarter-mile long, that
is mounted on rubber-wheeled
towers and rotates automatically
around a pivot. Powered by elec-
tricity, natural gas or diesel fuel,
they generally complete a circle
in twelve hours, laying down
about an inch of man-made rain.
Most of the systems irrigate the
major portion of 160 acres
(usually, only 133 of each 160, but
newer devices can move out-and
pick up corners). Longer systems
can water 640 acres.
More than 13.7 million of the
estimated 50 million irrigated
acres in the United States are
watered with about 86,000 of the
devices, according to William
Splinter, an expert on pivot
irrigation at the Unive-sity of
Nebraska. Most have been in-
stalled from the Mississippi
Valley westward, but they exist
in 35 states, attracting immense
corporate investment.
THE SPREAD of pivot
irrigation, however, means a
demand for more water-an
already endangered resource.
Agriculture, the nation's major
water user, already accounts for
more than 80 per cent of the an-
nual water depletion in the coun-
The systems operate con-
tinually during the growing
season in many areas, including
some in the Northwest where the
water table has been sinking 40
feet a year. They are installed,
essentially with no regulation,
while Secretary of Agriculture
Bob Bergland and other gover-
nment leaders lament the
growing water problem.
What's more, the systems often

By William Serrin
help produce crops that the coun-
try already grows in/such abun-
dance the government spends
millions of dollars to reduce their
In Colorado, says Melvin Skold,
a Department of Agriculture
economist, a farmer who par-
ticipates in a government
program to set aside acreage that
would have been used for corn
may use center pivot machines to
grow more corn on adjacent land.
Norman Whittlesey, an
agricultural economist at
Washington State University at
Pullman, the government this
year hasabeen buying potatoes for
use as cattle feed to maintain
potato prices. Meanwhile, in
Idaho, center pivots are
dramatically increasing the
potato crop.
The machines also consume
enormous amounts of energy. As
water tables recede, energy use
must increase to produce the
greater lift required to move
water to the surface.
A TYPICAL system uses about
50 gallons of diesel fuel per acre
per year in Nebraska to apply a
typical amount of water, 22 in-
ches, according to Splinter. This
is about ten times the fuel needed
for tilling, planting, cultivating
and harvesting a crop such as
corn, without irrigation, he says.
In the Pacific Northwest,
where tens of thousands of acres
are irrigated by center pivots, the
machinesdraw off water that
should be saved for hydro-
electric power or the region's im-
portant fish industries, contends
Whittlesey. In addition, he says,
large amounts of energy are used
to lift water 1,500 feet or so from
the Columbia River and tran-
sport it to large farms 10 to 20
miles away-partly at smaller
power users' expense.
Because of preferential utility
rates, says Whittlesey, smaller
ratepayersssubsidize the energy
bills of the irrigators. He
estimates that the subsidies
average about $200 per acre each
year, $100,000 for a 500-acre farm.
He also contends that the power
that is.lost to irrigation can only
be made up through construction
of coal or nuclear plants. The cost
of obtaining this new energy, he
estimates, is ten to 15 times the
cost of existing hydropower.
as other large-scale technology
that eliminates human labor and
favors large farms over small

n gives
ones, is nevertheless -supported
by the Department of
Agriculture, the agriculture sch-
ools, experiment stations and the
major farm press.
Such official support is clearly
contradictory-for decades lip
service has been paid to the
family farmer while the national
policy has been to drive him out.
The General Accounting Office,
in a survey in 1978, suggested that
government farm and tax
policies,, including those per-
taining to irrigation practices,
have harmed family farmers,
reducing their number immen-
The systems are inaccessible to
smaller farmers because of their
high cost. They have, however,
attracted many absentee non-
farm investors. In the Pacific
Northwest, Boeing Company,
Burlington Northern, Inc., and
other corporations have installed
pivot irrigation systems on huge
IN NEBRASKA, where over a
million acres are irrigated by
pivot systems, they have led to "a
vast introduction of absentee
owners, according to Marty
Strange of the Center for Rural
Affairs, Walthill, Nebraska.
Sand hill land has been bought
there for as little as $25 an acre
and irrigated with the machines,
which can be used on soil that will
not hold water from conventional
irrigation systems. After collec-
ting investment credit for putting
in the system, investment com-
panies have sold some of this
land, ten years later, for $50 an
acre. Th income is counted as
capital gains.
Absentee owners turn over
farming to management firms in-
terested in maximum profits and
having no particular stake in
preserving the local economy or
Because trees get in the way of
the machines, they are cut
down-trees planted in the 1930s
and '40s as shelter belts because
the sandy land is subject to wind
Since the sandy soil does not
retain either water or nitrogen,
both are applied heavily. This has
led to a serious drop in water
tables and a rise in ground water
nitrate levels in Nebraska.
'The impact on the land is
colonial," Strange said.
William Serrin is a Detroit-
based journalist who has
studied farm and food policy
for the last year. He wrote
this piece for Pacific News


Letters to the Da~ly
To the Daily:e Housing spc. whether my roommates-to-be
oth i nrtntttnAtsaegraduate student having to were graduate students (the con-
It is most unfortunate that not come back next fall I had applied dition prespecified in my ap-
only students living in Ann Arbor for a space in U-Towers. A month plication) For reasons totally
must accept the present less- later I was asked to come in to foreign to me, came the reply,
than-desirable housing and rents sign the lease. I was received by and I quote, "I could, but I'm
conditions, they also must suc- a young lady at the office. Not much too busy to do that." In-
cumb to the contemptuous han- having seen the room assigned to cidentally; there wvas no one else
douts by the housing me I asked for the permission to waiting to bo atte nded to!
management whep trying to do so but was turned down.-I then; g t' b -ttended to
@ctkt f 'ltafeet of living ' begged her if she could tell me

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