Editor's Note: John R. Whitaker, state executive director of USDA's Farm Service Agency in Iowa, oversees the various farm programs FSA offers. Many of them are related to conservation of soil, water and other natural resources. To mark Earth Day this year, April 22, 2013, he wrote the following Op-Ed piece sharing his thoughts on agriculture and the environment. He remembers the first Earth Day in 1970, and looks at how the environmental movement and farming have evolved over the last 33 years.
2013 Earth Day On The Ground Level
The global theme for Earth Day this year is "The Face of Climate Change"
By John R. Whitaker, State Executive Director, Iowa Farm Service Agency
Since its inception in 1970, the Earth Day phenomenon has led to enormous growth in understanding of the consequences we face if we do not take care of our natural resources. It has led to more action to protect our planet's land, water, air, wildlife and us as human beings.
Here in America and around the world, environmental concerns are becoming a primary focus. Lawmakers and business leaders, consumers and producers, families and individuals, teachers and students…everyone has a vested interest in preserving the earth, so we should set aside a day to remind us how important our natural resources are to us.
When I've asked Iowa farmers and ranchers what they know about Earth Day, the humble and honest reply I usually get is: "Every day is Earth Day." Where asphalt and pavement turns to gravel and dirt, you will find rural men and women greeting each day to work the ground. The soil. The earth. They are doing what needs to be done to feed a hungry world. To do so means that someone tills the soil, plants the fields, fertilizes, feeds, prunes, irrigates, picks, packs and ships.
Feeding a hungry world, farmers are challenged more than ever to preserve and protect natural resources that make farming possible
We at USDA require farmers and ranchers to develop conservation plans to participate in our programs. Even during time of high commodity prices, we encourage farmers to renew their participation in the Conservation Reserve Program. Programs such as this hold moisture into our soil, reduce soil erosion, and improve water quality for all Iowan's, while reducing carbon in the atmosphere.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Whether organic or conventional, the products coming from today's farms and ranches have been grown and harvested with a greater awareness of the environment. And with the growing concern for climate change, many farmers and ranchers have redoubled their commitment to do no-till planting and other common-sense practices to care for their land. Farmers in increasing numbers are adding cover crops to their farming practices, which has been shown to hold moisture, improve soil health, and improve water quality. Agriculture continues to make impressive advancements.
You only have to look at last year to see the impact climate has on agriculture
We only have to look back to last year to see the impact our climate has on agriculture. In 2012, Iowa experienced a drought that has not been seen in generations. But because of wide-spread bioresearch and development of new production techniques our farmers where able to plant, grow and harvest in a sustainable manner that would not have been conceivable in 1970 when the first Earth Day was celebrated. Progress has been made and all of us involved in agriculture should take pride.
Still, there is further to go. The world's population continues to grow so there is constant pressure to produce higher yields and better nutritional value in what we grow. Adequate food, fiber and biofuel supplies in the future will happen only when we have a healthy earth to supply them, so soil and our fresh-water supply need our continued attention.
Good day to think about and be thankful for the resources that make things grow
We have the resilient and resourceful farmers and ranchers here in Iowa to make it work, to keep the earth healthy. We have the hardest working people at the United States Department of Agriculture to support our farmers and ranchers.
So, Earth Day is a good day to celebrate. It's a good day to value our contributions as farmers and ranchers; a good day to be thankful, too, for each of our planetary resources that make things grow. And it's a good day to pledge -- in the face of climate change -- that we will continue to care for every part of Iowa. It's a great state with great people and a great place to be involved in agriculture at the ground level. Let's make it last for all future generations.
For more information about the Earth Day initiative, visit this link.