April 22nd is Earth Day. Having lived on a farm nearly all of my life, I feel a strong connection to nature on a daily basis. Whether it’s the spectacular sunrises and sunsets of the Great Plains, the landscapes that change with the seasons, acres of healthy growing crops, cattle grazing in the pasture or the red-tailed hawks flying overhead – there’s always something beautiful to be discovered.
As we fill our planet with more people, the impact of human activity becomes more pronounced.
There’s more than just beauty to be considered, there’s the preservation and improvement of resources like soil and water. I think we all share a goal of being able to feed everyone in a way that leaves the environment in as good of condition – or better – than we found it.
Farmers innately recognize their role as stewards of precious natural resources. Over the generations, we’ve learned what practices work best in meeting goals of conservation while supplying everyone with food and other necessary products derived from agriculture. Innovation and technology in agriculture have provided us with new tools and information on the way to reaching these goals. We’re constantly identifying our challenges, and working toward new ways with new tools to overcome them.
I’ve heard it said many times, “We have to take care of our land and livestock if we want them to take care of us.” When farming is your livelihood, it’s evident that caring for the earth goes hand in hand with providing for your family.
What any given farmer does on their operation in terms of conservation and preservation is going to vary, just as soil types and annual rainfall amounts fluctuate. Farmers tailor their efforts to the uniqueness of their location. However those efforts are modified, the attitude among farmers is constant. We all enjoy the process of nurturing living things, whether it’s a garden in the backyard or a cornfield across the road.
Not only do agricultural practices vary across a single state, they vary across the world. I’m grateful to live and farm in a place where water is respected for the treasure that it is. I’m excited to see modern practices and technology that cooperate with a climate to improve the soil. I’m thrilled to see farmers and consumers reaching out to talk to each other directly about these realities.
Here’s a few ways we actively care for our environment on our farm every day of the year:
1. Water Conservation: As irrigators, using the least amount of water possible to grow a crop is a priority. New crop hybrids and varieties, some featuring GMO traits for water efficiency, help us grow more with less water. Advances in irrigation equipment minimize evaporation and make it easier to monitor irrigation systems. In Nebraska, Natural Resource Districts play a substantial role in proactively managing water quality and quantity issues.
2. Soil Conservation and Improvement: We aim for more than conservation, we look for soil improvement. Practices (like no-till and cover crops) hold the soil in place when high winds and dry conditions occur – they also provide a mulch to help the soil retain moisture and build organic matter. Some GMO traits also lend for weed control options that don’t disturb the soil. Precision agriculture technology helps us measure the nutrient levels in the soil and then prescribe the necessary amount to keep soils healthy, resulting in healthy crops.
3. Using Less Fossil Fuel: We’re using less fuel than ever between engineering enhancements and weed control options that eliminate our need for mechanical removal through cultivating. Planting equipment that can seed right into prior year crop residue eliminates our need to work the soil before planting seeds. Not only do we require less fuel, we can grow and use clean renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel to reduce our carbon footprint.
4. Reducing Insecticides: GMO corn that resists insect damage requires dramatically less insecticide for crop protection. On our farm, we have never had to spray our corn for insect pressure since using corn with this trait; this is beneficial to other insect species and wildlife who reside in the field.
5. Recycling: Our seed comes in large containers rather than bags, which are recyclable. The packaging for our weed control products is also reusable.
6. What about our eating habits? Do we need to eat local and eat less meat? That’s entirely up to you. We could go a long way in reducing our food waste. Eating a balanced diet in moderation combined with exercise and plenty of water is always a good thing. Whether we eat a tomato from the back yard or a banana from the tropics, we can be thankful for all of these choices.
The combination of science and technology working with the strong roots of tradition, hard-working values, and a sense of family and community help us in our aim to take care of everyone and everything around us. It’s not a perfect process and new issues will always arise as time goes on, but looking ahead, our best possible path is solving these problems with every means available whether it’s innovative technology, traditional methods, or a common sense combination of both.
At the end of the day, we’re really on the same page. Wherever we are, we can all seek ways to make a positive impact on the planet we all share.