Agriculture has been in the news quite frequently recently — and the news isn’t always good. The contribution of cows to greenhouse gasses and climate change has been a hot topic. Impossible Burgers have grown in popularity as companies tout their lab grown burgers as a more sustainable option.
As agriculturists, it is easy to hear the negative news (complete with celebrities jumping on the farm-bashing band wagon) and get discouraged about the perception of the career and lifestyle most of us love and hold dear.
However, though it may seem odd, the right mindset can turn these debates into opportunities for farmers and agriculture professionals to tell a story about generational stewardship of land and natural resources.
Farmers aren’t traditionally the best public relations agents. Often quiet and (let’s be honest) too busy feeding the world to really tell their story, the issues most important to farmers are often steamrolled by big politicians, animal activist groups, and others.
The true story is that farming has always been an industry that depends on efficiency and preservation of resources. To that end, agriculture has evolved and changed over the years to be more sustainable.
Sustainable Farming Management Practices
- Cover crops are planted not with the end goal of being harvested, but instead provide a protective layer between the topsoil and outside elements. Cover crops help to reduce soil erosion and assist in fixing nutrients in the soil profile, which may allow for a reduction of chemical fertilizer applications.
- No till farming helps to maintain nutrients and reduce soil erosion from wind and water. This method of farming places seeds into untilled soil, which reduces erosion potential. This is especially true on sloping land and/or sandy soil. Fewer passes over these fields saves fuel and input costs.
- Rotational grazing is a method where animals are moved frequently in small grazing sections, grazing each section uniformly. This makes the use of the forage more efficient, controls weeds, and allows for a way to care for pasture and reduce use of pesticides.
- Selectively breeding animals that are efficient in feeding and production has been a strategy in place for generations. Breeding programs work to feature animal traits that will equate to more meat, milk, and wool production.
- Planting shelter belts and grassed waterways provides farmers with another way to reduce erosion and protect and nourish wildlife species. In many areas, specific plants or vegetative species are sown to help nourish and shelter species that may be endangered or threatened.
- Using solar energy on farms helps reduce dependence on traditional power sources, making the farm an efficient user and producer of green energy. Excess energy can often be sold back to the grid to help the farmer be more profitable while benefiting nearby communities. Plus, solar power rarely takes space from other operations. Roof tops on existing structures are popular solutions, but even ground mounts can work in tandem with many row crops.
These methods and many others have proven to be successful for agriculture. Since 2007, United States dairy farmers have reduced their carbon footprint nearly 25 percent. According to Dairy Management, Inc., each gallon of milk produced today requires 90 percent less land and 65 percent less water than it did almost 70 years ago. These advances are thanks to equipment efficiency, selective animal breeding and plant breeding genetics, and more knowledge and information available than ever before. The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that the average farmer feeds 155 people today, a big increase from the 73 people it was in the 1970’s.
The success story of the American Farmer is rooted in making the most of available resources and utilizing advancements in technology to do even better. It makes sense: if you can produce 3 times more food on the same amount of land than your parents or grandparents, why wouldn’t you? That will increase your yield and (hopefully) increase profits.
But farmers are not only driven by money. The very nature of their ability to grow and sustain their business, be it crops or animals, depends on the viability of the resources they use. It’s why sustainable practices and new technology like wind and solar power are a logical, seamless addition to farming operations.
Sharing the sustainable ag story
Agriculturalists can work together to demonstrate to the public how their practices feed and respect the land and resources at their disposal. A public display of renewable energy efforts is an easy way for consumers to see steps that farmers are taking. The best part of this kind of demonstration is that the farmers will see an instant boost in their profits as a result.
At the end of the day, everyone in the industry must step up and join the conversation to educate the public about the steps being taken to care for the earth and environment. It’s just as important as tending to crops or animals. All of us have a story to tell — one of perseverance, innovation, hard work, and with the right tools, success.