Ag groups, farmers and companies celebrated the 45th annual Earth Day on Wednesday, focusing on natural resources stewardship and protection of important species.
Earth Day Network, which organizes the event, says one billion people in approximately 192 countries celebrate Earth Day. This year's theme was "It's our turn to lead."
Here's a look at how USDA and ag organizations are celebrating Earth Day 2015:
Curbing food waste with USDA
The USDA estimated that 31% -- or 133 billion pounds – of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten in the United States.
Not only is that food missing the mouths of the hungry, wasting food is also wasting energy, water, and everything else required to grow, process, transport, and prepare food, USDA said. Improving resource efficiency would also decrease the amount of nitrogen released to the environment.
USDA explains that nitrogen is critical to human life and the food chain, but too much can be a problem. Human-introduced nitrogen, USDA said, has led to environmental issues such as eutrophication (intense plant growth in a body of water), hypoxia (lack of dissolved oxygen in water), smog, acid rain, and greenhouse gas emissions.
"Fortunately, even small lifestyle changes can reduce our nitrogen footprints and lessen their environmental impacts—and one of the easiest ways is by minimizing food waste," USDA said. "Avoiding food waste saves money, is practical, and is as simple as keeping food out of the trash."
USDA invites consumers and farmers to estimate their personal nitrogen footprint online using the N-Calculator.
Ensuring water quality with the United Soybean Board >>
Ensuring water quality
On Earth Day, the United Soybean Board awarded four farmers for Outstanding Water Stewardship.
Protecting water is important, USB said, and a variety of farm-management techniques, including conservation tillage, nutrient management and technology improvements in seed and equipment, can improve water quality and conserve water use.
Managing water has economic benefits, too, USB noted. Tools such as precision-agriculture applications and soil tests help farmers apply the right amount of nutrients and chemicals for each field. This helps them reduce applications, improve water quality and boost profitability.
The four farmers awarded for water quality stewardship on Earth Day include:
• Terry McClure, Grover Hill, Ohio: McClure is an Ohio Nature Conservancy board member and volunteers his farm for research conducted to ensure he is maintaining the lowest levels of nutrient runoff on his operation.
• Mike Starkey, Brownsburg, Ind.: Starkey continually searches for ways to fine-tune his cropping system and has implemented conservation tillage for 15 years. He farms near Indianapolis and works to prevent erosion and sediment in the urban water supply.
• Jimmy Thomas and family, Timberlake, N.C: The Thomas family focuses on soil health and waterway maintenance. They use a variety of structures on the farm to direct water flow and filter runoff, including terraces, grass waterways, field borders and filter strips.
• Hans Schmidt, Sudlersville, Md.: Schmidt hosts farm tours and invites key influencers, such as legislators and government delegates, to his farm so they can learn about the practices that many farmers employ to improve water quality.
A focus on pollinator health >>
Focus on pollinator health
To mark Earth Day, Bayer CropScience this week pledged to continue its CARE program, which supports collaboration between crop producers and beekeepers on bee health and stewardship.
The CARE program is now in its third year, and encourages growers to:
• Communicate planting activities to neighboring beekeepers when practical and be aware of beehives adjacent to the planting area;
• Be Aware of wind speed and direction during planting, particularly in areas with flowering crops;
• Reduce risk to pollinators by using Fluency Agent, a new planter seed lubricant for corn and soybeans; and
• Ensure seed is planted correctly. To help protect the environment, clean planters and seed boxes in a way to minimize dust release and ensure treated seed is planted at the proper depth.
The procedures are intended to prevent pesticide exposure to bees while ensuring crop protection and health.
"By following the label use instructions, adopting best practices for applying seed treatments, and ensuring proper product storage and disposal, growers can minimize their impact on the environment and help preserve beneficial insects, continuing their essential role as stewards for a more productive and healthier world," Bayer CropScience said.
In the U.S., more than crops valued at more than $15 billion are pollinated by bees.
Thanking the American farmer >>
Several groups on Wednesday pointed out the significance of the American farmer's efforts to be a good steward of the land and natural resources:
"For hundreds of years, America's farmers have been working our land and providing the country and the world with high quality food, feed, fiber and fuel," said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy. "These same farmers are committed to meeting the challenges of the 21st century with both cutting-edge innovations and a deep-rooted respect for the Earth. Farmers know that protecting the environment and sustaining the resources they use is critical to our current way of life and their livelihood. Furthermore, they understand the commitment that must be made must be made for future generations to continue their legacy and thrive.
Related: Guardians of the soil
"The American farmer is also the backbone of the renewable fuels industry. America's biofuel industry is producing the cleanest fuels in the world, and thanks to American farmers' hard work and commitment to our planet, we are making even bigger leaps forward right now."
United Soybean Board
"The sustainability of U.S. soy is an important factor to customers both at home and abroad," says Bill Beam, chair of the United Soybean Board's Freedom to Operate Action Team and a soybean farmer from Elverson, Pennsylvania. "Managing the land, air and water to make sure we have the inputs needed to grow a quality crop each year while simultaneously planning for the future is a delicate balance."
National Farmers Union
"America's family farmers and ranchers are the original conservationists, working to preserve and cultivate our natural resources while providing the world with the safest, most affordable and abundant food supply available," NFU President Roger Johnson said. "Earth Day is a celebration of clean air, land and water, and today we salute family agriculture for its contributions to a cleaner environment and sustainable food supply for everyone."