For over four decades, an annual event called Earth Day has been held in late April across the United States, which has been a time for all U.S. citizens to reflect on our country’s environmental resources, and what we can do individually and as communities to help enhance our environment for the next generation. 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.
The environmental advancements in agriculture production in recent decades has been accomplished with a relatively small investment of federal tax dollars through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and other programs. There have also been numerous State and local farm-related conservation and environmental initiatives through Soil and Water Conservation Districts, wildlife organizations, and other initiatives, all of which have been heavily supported by farmers.
Consider the following environmental facts about U.S. agriculture and the CRP program:
- Farm owners in the U.S. currently have about 27 million acres enrolled in the CRP Program, which was initiated in 1985. There are currently over 700,000 CRP contracts on over 390,000 farms in the U.S.
- U.S. farm owners have restored 2 million acres of wetlands and buffers through the CRP program, and have protected over 2 million acres of stream banks along rivers and streams.
- Since 1982, the soil erosion rate on U.S. cropland has been reduced by over 40%, including approximately 450 tons of soil erosion reduced annually by the CRP program.
- The CRP program is the largest private lands carbon sequestration program in the U.S., and is comparable to taking 9 million automobiles off the road in a given year.
- Each year, CRP keeps more than 600 million pounds of nitrogen and more than 100 million pounds of phosphorus from flowing into rivers, streams and lakes in the U.S.
- U.S. agricultural producers provide for approximately 75% of the nation’s wildlife habitat, which has lead to enhanced populations of ducks, pheasants, quail, and other wildlife species.
- In addition to the standard CRP program, there are currently 45 Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs(CREP) in 33 states in targeted watersheds, which have generated over $1 billion in additional state and private funds for partnership conservation efforts through CRP.
- Each year farmers plant hundreds of thousands of trees through SWCD tree planting programs.
Following is some information from recent research authorized by the National Pork Board:
The research compared the carbon footprint and resource use of the U.S. swine production from 1959 to 2009, and found that modern pork production has the following environmental advantages:
- 35% lower carbon footprint than in 1959
- Uses 41% less water than in 1959
- 78% less land needed for pork production than in 1959
- 33% reduction in the amount of feed required to produce a pound of pork than in 1959
- An overall 50% reduction in the use of natural resources and environmental impact, compared to 1959
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.