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Transcript - Pennsylvania Farm Country Radio Interview with Regional Administrator Karl Brooks on Soil Conservation and Water Quality

Dave Williams: Welcome back! And today we are down in Kansas City and I have the opportunity to call on Dr. Karl Brooks, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – plays a major role in clean water and much more in America. Am I right, Karl?

Karl Brooks: Dave, pleasure to talk to you. Yeah, EPA is really I think in many ways partner with landowners and ag producers and trying to make sure that we have productive soil and clean water for generations to come. We are very much part of that equation.

Dave Williams: In Pennsylvania where I live, we have some of the most pristine water in the state. We aim to keep it that way, too. Many times, farmers feel that they don't get enough attention for what they do. Wetlands, for instance – almost every farmer in my part of country has wetlands. They realize the value of it, they realize it's a straining system for the waterways. Am I right?

Karl Brooks: Absolutely, a well maintained wetland is one of the most important natural buffers to pollution. In our part of the country here in the Midwest, over 90 percent of the land area is either cropped or grazed. So those tens of thousands of landowners are really sort of the frontline troops when it comes to maintaining water quality and when it comes to maintaining soil health. There's got to be that real strong partnership between the landowner, who has got that investment and that stewardship responsibility, and agencies like the EPA and our state environmental agency partners.

Dave Williams: It's like anybody, working together to understand each other's problems and trying to work it out in a friendly way. Very important!

Karl Brooks: Absolutely! A lot of work in rural America is done on a handshake basis. A lot of it depends upon having a high level of trust, and what the other guy is saying. It's why we in our region spend a lot of time on the road. I drive thousands of miles a year throughout this huge midsection of the country, talking to individual producers, going to trade shows, meeting with crop advisors. I try to go to all the land grant colleges every year.

I think that's important for people to see that I am the senior EPA person here, and for me to learn from them, what some of their challenges are – and maybe even more important, what some of the solutions are they have come up with and recognize them for that.

Dave Williams: So many times, you and I both know this: the small person knows more of the solution than a big person, am I right?

Karl Brooks: Especially on the ground. I mean, in the end, clean water and productive soil starts in a particular place – on a farm, on a ranch, in a small community, at the lowest level of watershed. And EPA simply can't and it doesn't have the means to be everywhere on the landscape. That's where the landowner comes in, especially that landowner who wants to hand that operation on to their children or their grandchildren, because usually they have the operation passed along by a grandparent to them and they feel real responsibility for that.

Dave Williams: A lot of farmers do such a wonderful job, and I think they really deserve recognition for the work they do to make this land so much better. We all know that keeping land and farmland is actually like a sponge – taking care of water runoff, things of that nature. And in modern ag today, of course advances in technology such as GPS, less herbicides, less pesticides, less fertilizers – all these things are making a mark. A lot of farmers feel that they don't get enough recognition for that.

Karl Brooks: One point my boss, Administrator Lisa Jackson, made when she was in Iowa about a year ago is that American agriculture is probably the most vital, fast-changing part of the American economy. It's not your grandfather's farm. It's really not even your father's farm. Most of these advances also have real upside environmental potential to them as you point out – cultivating more efficiently, applying chemicals like pesticides and herbicides more precisely, being able to minimize the amount of water that you need to use through better seed qualities and such. All of these are things that ag is doing right now on the ground that have really big environmental spin-off benefits.

Dave Williams: Of course, that's so important to the processes of food, no matter which way you look at – to the consumer I should say, more than anybody.

Karl Brooks: Sure! I mean we live in a world where fewer than one percent of Americans farm for a living. The other 99 percent of us depend on those farmers for the food, forage, fiber and fuel that we need, and the world depends on it as well. That ag sector has tremendous clout, it also has tremendous responsibility.

What we see in the heartland is that when producers apply techniques that are more sustainable and more positive, people follow them. They are leaders in their community and we need to do in EPA, frankly, a good job – a better job of recognizing those advances, congratulating people for doing it, saluting them for their concern, and working with them.

Dave Williams: And listening, I think that's the main course, you're talking.

Karl Brooks: We try to be wide open to improvements from every sector of the compass, whether they come from a livestock producer or a soybean farmer or a conservation district in a small county in Iowa.

Dave Williams: And it's all about feeding an ever-growing world, am I right?

Karl Brooks: It is, feeding it and also maintaining those productive resources for the long term. That's really at the heart of the ag mission, you bet it is.

Dave Williams: I want to thank you for being on with me, Karl. It's always a pleasure talking to you.

Karl Brooks: Same here, Dave! Thanks for visiting us in Kansas City.

Dave Williams: And ladies and gentlemen, that's Karl Brooks with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And of course, he is out of Kansas and we will be right back.

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