For the past four decades, an annual event called Earth Day has been held in late April across the U.S., which has been a time for all 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. This has been accomplished with a relatively small investment of federal tax dollars.
Consider the following environmental facts about U.S. agriculture:
- Since 1982, the soil erosion rate on U.S. cropland has been reduced by nearly 43%.
- Water erosion of cropland was reduced from 1.68 billion tons (total U.S.)/year in 1982 to 960 million tons/year in 2007.
- Wind erosion of cropland was reduced from 1.38 billion tons/year in 1982 to 765 million tons/year on 2007.
- 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 CRP.
- From 1997 to 2009, U.S. farmers and ranchers added 131,400 acres of new wetlands.
- U.S. agricultural producers provide for approximately 75% of the nation’s wildlife habitat.
- Each year farmers plant hundreds of thousands of trees through SWCD tree planting programs.
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% less insecticide and about 30% less herbicide /acre today than they did two decades ago.
- Corn producers use 10% less fertilizer /bushel produced today than they did in 1995; while corn  yields have increased by nearly 30% over that same period, due to advanced genetics.
- In 2007, it required 37% less land, 27% less irrigation water and 37% less energy to produce a bushel of corn than it did in 1987.
- A bushel of corn in 2007 was produced with a 69% reduction in soil loss, and 30% 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 its 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 farmland, 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.
Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at [email protected] .com.