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:
- There are currently about 25.6 million acres, from around 673,000 contracts, on over 375,000 farms across the U.S. in the CRP program, which was initiated in 1985.
- U.S. farm owners have restored over 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 300 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 10 million automobiles off the road in a given year.
- Each year, CRP keeps more than 600 million pounds of nitrogen and more than 120 million pounds of phosphorus from flowing into rivers, streams, and lakes in the U.S.
- U.S. farm owners have provided for approximately 4 million acres in the Continuous CRP program, much of which has been dedicated to enhancing the nation’s wildlife habitat, which has lead to increased populations of ducks, pheasants, and other wildlife species in many areas.
- In addition to the standard CRP program, there are currently 46 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.
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.