Farmers Were Sustainable Before It Was Trendy

Several innovations and improvements help farmers care better for the land and prepare the farm for the next generations.
Farm sustainability

In today’s fast-paced world of constant information, 24-hour news, social media frenzies and ever-changing trends by consumers, the topic of sustainability has been a phrase that pops up almost everywhere, from social media to corporate responsibility statements and more, on a daily basis.  

So, what is sustainability? Sustainability is a very broad topic.  When you ask most farmers what their definition of sustainability is, you usually get a joking response like: “Sustainable to me means farming another year.”  They usually laugh then tell you being sustainable to them truly means providing for their family today and leaving their farm operation better for the next generation, this applies both to financial resources for the farm and natural resources on the land itself.   

When you ask most consumers their definition of sustainability, they typically go directly to environmental sustainability, because that’s what this trend has led them to do.  These same consumers now demand that the products they purchase be derived from sustainable production practices.  This also applies to food, fiber and forestry products. Farmers have to demonstrate their production practices are vetted through the “social licensing” process to meet the consumers’ ethical and moral values, in addition to the consumers’ usual decision factors, such as price, product brand and quality. Good or bad, sustainability is a topic that’s here to stay.  

Agriculture has a long, beautiful story to tell in the conversation on sustainability and has a unique opportunity to capitalize on this movement.  By default, farmers were indeed the very first conservationists.  As I further discuss this topic, I could throw thousands of facts and figures out that clearly quantify how farmers are becoming more sustainable every day by reducing water use, pesticide applications and fuel consumption.  Ultimately, all of this data will emphatically demonstrate that farmers are using less to produce more than ever before in human history.

A few specific innovations that have been monumental in farmers becoming more sustainable include:

  • Reduced Tillage Practices – Reduced tillage is a way of growing crops from year to year without disturbing the soil through intense tillage.  It reduces or eliminates soil erosion and improves soil biological fertility, making soils more resilient.  With reduced tillage practices, farms have made a smaller environmental footprint on the land.
  • Improvements in Seed Technology (Genetic Modification) – Genetic modification in crops has been one of the largest scientific breakthroughs in modern agriculture. Seeds with special traits have included resistance to certain pests, diseases or environmental conditions (drought); resistance to chemical treatments (e.g. resistance to a herbicide); or improving the nutrient profile of the crop.  Because of these improvements, farmers have reduced pesticide applications by over 25 percent and have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by over 23 billion kilograms, or the equivalent of taking 11 million cars off the road for one year. 
  • Variable Rate Application Technologies – Variable rate technology has been another key component of applying fertilizer and pesticides with the utmost care. Variable-rate technology enables producers to vary the rate of fertilizer or pesticides to a site-specific location in a field depending on the need in that location. This technology allows the farmer to apply fertilizer more efficiently, based off the need in a certain location in the field. As the equipment moves across the field, the onboard computer system cuts the spout on or off, depending on the soil health in that particular spot of the field.    

In closing, farmers have been sustainable for years, constantly improving the job they do on a daily basis. They take the utmost care of the land, pasture and crops of which the Lord has made them good stewards.  They view these vital resources as a business partner for their generation and for future generations to come. In essence, farmers were sustainable before being sustainable was a trendy thing to do.  We as an industry have to be proactive and do a better job of telling this wonderful story.  

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