Author: JACQUI FATKA
FOR more than 40 years, Earth Day has brought attention to preserving the environment, and it’s often said that “every day is Earth Day for farmers.”
To a farmer, Earth Day is much more than recycling a plastic bottle. Farmers make their living from the land; it is their life blood.
US National Association of Wheat Growers secretary-treasurer Bing Von Bergen said the number-one priority as agriculturists is to manage the land to make it produce the most it can while still maintaining the land and not harming it by overproducing on it. This is done through putting nutrients back into the ground, rotating crops and reducing the number of passes over the field.
Von Bergen noted that his father and grandfather were both sustainable agriculturists, and the reason he’s still able to farm on his land is because of that. He one day hopes his son will do the same.
“We try to maintain the integrity of the soil and preserve moisture as much as we can,” he said.
Wheat growers second vice president Erik Younggren explained that if you don’t take care of a car, building or your computer, you can get a new one, but “they don’t make any more land. If we wreck the land we currently have, we won’t get it back. We view our job with a long-term view.”
Von Bergen added that farmers are first and foremost businessmen.
“If I did not maintain the integrity of my ground and be a good steward of my land, then I would no longer be in business,” he said.
Biotechnology has become a key tool in helping farmers preserve the Earth. A recent report issued by the US National Research Council details the environmental benefits of biotech crops, including reduced pesticide use and increased use of tillage techniques that reduce soil erosion, water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
“One of the most significant benefits of using biotech crops is the reduction in on-farm energy use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions from no-till farming practices,” said Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, Biotechnology Industry Organization executive vice president for food and agriculture.
“In 2007, for example, the 274 million acres of biotech crops resulted in a 31.3 billion lb. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. This is equivalent to removing 6.3 million cars from the road for a year,” she said.
Agricultural biotechnology provides environmental benefits by increasing production yields, thereby reducing the pressure to force more land — often marginal and highly erodible land — into production.
Herbicide-tolera nt biotech crops also allow producers to use no-till farming practices, which enhance soil moisture content, reduce erosion and limit carbon dioxide emissions.
As biotechnology advances, seeds are helping reduce waste production from livestock feedlots and concentrated animal agricultural operations via biotechnology-improved feed products and nutritional supplements for livestock.
The American Soybean Assn. reported that over the past two decades, soybean yields per acre have increased 29 per cent, while land use per bushel has decreased 26pc. Soybean soil loss indicators have improved dramatically over time, with a 31pc reduction in soil loss per acre and a 49pc reduction in soil loss per bushel. Energy use has decreased 48pc per acre and 65pc per bushel.
Biodiesel also benefits the environment. It has the best energy balance and the best greenhouse gas reduction of any fuel that is currently in the commercial marketplace, and biodiesel is the only advanced biofuel that has reached commercialization in the US.
Biodiesel made from soybean oil can achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions relative to petroleum diesel – as much as 85pc.
Accor ding to the US Department of Agriculture, today’s farmers produce 70pc more corn per pound of nutrients applied than they did in the 1970s. Farmers are able to use less fertiliser because new high-tech equipment puts fertiliser directly over plants’ roots instead of spreading it on the whole field, and in-seed technologies are constantly improving corn’s fertilizer-use efficiency.
“It only makes sense that growers would work to preserve land, water and air,” said National Corn Growers Assn. president Darrin Ihnen, a farmer in Hurley, S.D. “We need to conserve these resources for the survival of our farms, which most of us have passed from generation to generation.”
In a study last year from Field to Market, the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, it was reported that, from 1987 to 2007, producing a bushel of corn resulted in a 69pc decrease in soil loss, a 37pc decrease in land and energy use, a 30pc decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and a 27pc decrease in water application. Each year, reduced tillage methods save 3.5 gal. of fuel per acre of cropland.
According to the Field to Market report, from 1987 to 2007, wheat’s energy use per bushel decreased while its water use per bushel remained relatively flat.
Wheat productivity (yield per acre) increased 19pc over the study period. Wheat land use decreased 24pc over the 20-year period while land use per bushel was variable, with an average overall decrease of 17pc. Soil loss tonnes per acre decreased 39pc in the study period.
Here’s the point
SINCE the first Earth Day 40 years ago, there has been a tremendous push to preserve the environment. It might sound cliche to say every day is Earth Day for farmers, but they truly deserve much of the credit for the work they do – driven by a love of the land – in keeping the land in as good as or better shape than when they found it.
Today, farmers and ranchers produce more food than ever before on fewer acres with fewer inputs. US agricultural production has led the charge in reducing soil loss and energy use while increasing yields and water use efficiency. These things are possible through the use of modern farming tools such as global positioning systems, biotechnology and conservation tillage.
A public television show about US agriculture called “America’s Heartland” has also put together a special “Heartland Earth Day” webisode about people who are true environmental stewards. For those farmers featured, it’s more than just good business; it’s what they believe in. View the webisode at www.americasheartland.org/video/e arthday_webisode.htm .
* Find out more about the ways farmers help preserve the Earth at www.FeedstuffsFoodLink.com .