Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. For most of its history, environmental groups have latched on to Earth Day and often used it to criticize commercial agriculture. This year, farm organizations are fighting back, many of them noting that farmers are the true stewards of the land, water and air.

Groups like the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and the National Association of Wheat Growers have issued statements citing the environmental accomplishments of farmers. The NCGA said much of the credit for the shift in favor of environmental preservation over the last four decades goes to farmers.

“It only makes sense that growers would work to preserve land, water and air. We need to conserve these resources for the survival of our farms, which most of us have passed from generation to generation,” says NCGA President Darrin Ihnen, a family farmer in Hurley, SD.

“There are a great number of people who should be recognized for their efforts, and farmers should rank right up there with them,” says Alan Tiemann, a farmer from Seward, NE, who is chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board (NCB).

The NCB issued a statement of its own for the Earth Day celebrations. “Farmers have worked with soil and water since the first seed was planted in the ground, and every year we work to become more efficient and produce more corn for feed, food, fuel and fiber on every acre we plant.”

According to USDA, today’s farmers produce 70% more corn/lb. of nutrients than they did in the 1970s, the NCGA says. Farmers are able to use less fertilizer because new high-tech equipment puts fertilizer directly over the plants’ roots instead of spreading it on the whole field, and in-seed technologies are constantly improving corn’s fertilizer-use efficiency.

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 has seen a 69% decrease in soil loss, 37% decrease in land and energy use, 30% decrease in greenhouse-gas emissions and 27% decrease in water application. And each year, reduced tillage methods save 3.5 gal. of fuel/acre of cropland.

Seed companies are working on new corn hybrids and soybean and wheat varieties that would use even fewer nutrients and water as they plan for responding to even greater demands for food, fuel, feed and fiber in the future.

The NCGA notes that this Earth Day farmers have a good tool to help them discover even more environmental efficiencies. Developed by Field to Market, the Fieldprint Calculator helps farmers assess the efficiency of their operations and improve their management of natural resources. For more information, visit www.fieldtomarket.org.