Farmers look out for environment every day

April 18, 2006|by JEFF SEMLER

On April 22 we will celebrate Earth Day. Earth Day is often touted by so-called environmental groups.

Who do you think would also be in on this celebration?

Farmers. That's right. Farmers.

Every day is Earth Day on the farm.

Farmers are the stewards of the environment. They till the soil and care for animals and this is all in a day's work. When the industrial revolution brought about the mass migration from the farms to the city, farming changed, too.

After the hard lesson of the dust bowl years, agriculture has made great strides.

Contour farming as well as no-till and minimum till has saved millions of tons of soil while at the same time increasing yields.


As regular readers can attest, Extension has long worked directly with farmers on the efficient production of food and fiber.

In addition, Extension, along with its partners at the Soil Conservation District and the Natural Resource Conservation Service, has worked to minimize the environmental impacts of agriculture.

It is a fact that humans impact their environment with their daily activities even if it is only driving to work.

Agriculture is no different.

However, good stewardship of land, water and animals is not only good for the resources, it is good for the bottom line.

No matter how nostalgic we get, farming is a business. While it is also a way of life, if you are not profitable, you are not in existence very long.

With ever decreasing profit margins, farmers must reduce costs. And, a huge ever-rising cost is fertilizer.

While nutrient management may be a four-letter word to some, it is just good business to utilize nutrients to their best advantage. If one can reduce purchased fertilizer by proper use of manure, cover crops and crop rotation, then it should be done without reservation.

As I had mentioned previously, Natural Resource Conservation Service/Soil Conservation District have long championed soil conservation.

In March 1935, fierce windstorms from the Great Plains carried huge dark clouds of dust eastward and blackened skies as far away as the nation's capital. Hugh Hammond Bennett convinced Congress that soil erosion was a menace that merited national attention.

On April 27, 1935, Congress established the Soil Conservation Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conserve natural resources on agricultural lands and named Bennett as chief. During his tenure, Bennett stressed the importance of soil conservation to crowds across the country.

Natural Resource Conservation Service is celebrating Earth Day this year by highlighting the president's wetlands initiative and cooperative conservation efforts on private lands with local partners and landowners.

On Earth Day 2004, President Bush set an aggressive goal that goes beyond the federal policy of "no net loss" to improve, restore and protect three million acres of wetlands in five years.

Agriculture, once the major cause of wetlands conversion, achieved a net gain of nearly 263,000 acres between 1997 and 2003.

"Farmers and ranchers are leaders in the wetland restoration and protection efforts throughout the United States," said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. "The president's historic support of voluntary conservation programs has led the nation to this important milestone and we are committed to bolstering our conservation partnerships with producers."

So, as you can see and as I had said earlier, every day is Earth Day on the farm. Farmers and their advisors work hard to care for our environment.

In the words of Hugh Hammond Bennett, first chief, Soil Conservation Service, "Out of a long list of nature's gifts to man, none is perhaps so utterly essential to human life as soil."

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at

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