Each year, Earth Day April 22- marks the anniversary of what many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. At the time Americans drove cars with massive, gas slurping V-8 engines and industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. Air pollution was accepted as the "smell of prosperity."
Rachel Carson had set the stage for environmental awareness with her New York Times best seller "Silent Spring" in 1962. Since then, the last 40 plus years have seen a lot more people getting interested and involved in environmental awareness. In recent years, it has become fashionable to point the "finger of blame" at agriculture and farmers for many environmental issues. However, in reality farmers have been some of the best "environmental stewards" in the U.S. in the past couple of decades. This has been accomplished with a relatively small investment of Federal tax dollars.
Consider the following environmental facts about U.S. agriculture:
Conservation tillage is now used on approximately 72 million acres of cropland in the U.S.
Contour farming practices are utilized on 26 million acres of cropland in the U.S.
U.S. farmers maintain over 1.3 million acres of grass waterways.
Farm owners currently have over 29 million acres enrolled in the CRP Program.
From 1997 to 2009, U.S. farmers and ranchers added 131,400 acres of new wetlands.
U.S. agricultural producers provide for approximately 75 percent of the nation's wildlife habitat.
Following is some data from the National Corn Growers Association:
Due to enhanced genetics in corn hybrids to control insects and manage weeds, U.S. corn producers use 70 percent less insecticide and about 30 percent less herbicide per acre today than they did two decades ago.
Corn producers use 10 percent less fertilizer per bushel produced today than they did in 1995; while corn yields have increased by nearly 30 percent over that same period, due to advanced genetics.
In 2007, it required 37 percent less land, 27 percent less irrigation water, and 37 percent less energy to produce a bushel of corn than it did in 1987.
A bushel of corn in 2007 was produced with a 69 percent reduction in soil loss, and 30 percent lower emissions of greenhouse gases, than in 1987.
There is still a lot to be accomplished to manage potential water quality, global warming and other environmental issues; however, we can rest assured that the agriculture industry will do their part to find solutions. Much of the recent environmental focus related to agriculture has been on improving water quality through reductions in soil erosion and agricultural runoff, including extreme measures that would greatly restrict agricultural drainage. Properly designed ag drainage and tiling systems are critical to maintaining optimum productivity on much of the nation's highest quality farm land, so the key is to find a proper balance between the goals and objectives of all parties that are involved. Agriculture research and science will continue to look at new and innovative ways to better manage nutrients and reduce soil erosion, while enhancing production to feed an ever-increasing World population.