Tuesday, March 23, 2021

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Animal Food

By: Constance Cullman, American Feed Industry Association president and CEO

This year’s National Agriculture Day theme, “Food brings everyone to the table,” could not be more fitting. Over the past year, we saw consumers emptying store shelves as they frantically bought food staples for their families and pets. Although the coronavirus pandemic revealed a few challenges within modern food systems, it also highlighted the important work millions of Americans do everyday to grow crops and raise animals, to produce affordable food and to deliver it fresh to the marketplace - all so we can sit down to a table and enjoy nutritious meals with our families.

It also gave us, within the animal food industry, an opportunity to share the unique and very important role we play in U.S. agriculture. Our 944,000 essential employees report to work each day to turn farm-grown crops and coproducts into nutritious feed for livestock and poultry (and thus, people) and food and treats for our pets. Today, we honor their extraordinary work – thank you!

For #AgDay, I would like to share a few fun facts you may have missed over the past year about the animal food industry and the important role we play in bringing food to your table.

  • Last year, our manufacturing facilities in nearly every state fed nearly 284 million tons of safe, high quality and nutritious food to America’s domestic livestock and pets. This ensures these animals receive all the right nutrients at the various stages of their lives and that the resulting protein and dairy products your family consume are nutritious.
  • Our industry has a multiplier effect on the rural economy; for example, within the pet food industry alone, we purchased roughly 8.6 million tons of farm products (valued at $6.9 billion) from farmers and farm processors to make 9.8 million tons of pet food in 2019. Throughout the value chain, we are supporting rural businesses that provide our industry with materials, services, equipment and labor.
  • We are sustainable. Roughly 47% of the total feed produced in the United States comes from co-products that may have otherwise found homes in landfills, which reduces food waste and our carbon footprint.
  • Our top-notch nutritionists keep food-producing animals performing at their optimal efficiency, helping farmers and ranchers reduce costs while meeting growing consumer demand. We are also working diligently to research and bring new ingredients to the marketplace that promote better animal nutrition.
  • We serve a global marketplace. In 2020, our industry exported $13 billion in feed, feed ingredients and pet food, which not only supported the agriculture industry’s $2.5 billion trade surplus, but also provided producers and pet owners with more options in the marketplace.

Whether it is food bringing everyone to the table or everyone – from farmers to truck drivers to our animal food manufacturing workers – bringing food to the table, the message is clear: when it comes to food, we all play a role. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

After derecho, rural communities prove every day is Ag Day

After last year's derecho swept across Iowa, flattening corn fields and damaging infrastructure, rural communities come together to help rebuild.

By Tyler Harris, Wallaces Farmer/Farm Progress

While some growers that were affected by the derecho  
were able to harvest their corn and take advantage of  
higher prices at the end of the season, others weren't
so fortunate. Many had to disk their corn under. Those 
that were able to harvest often had to harvest slowly.
I once heard an extension educator refer to planting season as one of the great wonders of the world – when farmers, seed dealers, and fertilizer dealers come together to put a crop in the ground. It truly takes a community to make agriculture happen.

So, after the 2020 derecho event on August 10 and 11 that devastated communities and rural areas in Iowa and other Midwestern states, it's no surprise to see neighbors helping neighbors to clean up and recover from the devastating  event – itself preceded by a period of prolonged drought in Iowa.

While these stories are numerous across the Midwest, one notable example has cropped up in Benton County in eastern Iowa.

"Based on maps showing damage from the derecho, Benton County was one of the hardest-hit areas," says Iowa State University Benton County Extension program director, Greg Walston.

While some were able to harvest 150-bushel corn and take advantage of higher prices at the end of the season, others weren't so fortunate. Many had to simply disk their corn under.

"Those that did pick their corn had to slow down to harvest. It was real horrible harvesting this year because they had to go so slow and figure out what direction to pick in because the corn was knocked over in different directions," Walston adds. "We're also hearing that certain financial implications are now settling in. Growers are getting reports back from insurance agents and realizing they're still going to be a little bit short on the amount they need to rebuild and recover."

However, neighbors and the community at large have come together to aid the recovery of those affected. Organizations like the non-profit Benton County Disaster Recovery Coalition have stepped up to help meet unmet needs for those recovering from the disaster. Specifically, those who have already received assistance through insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and still need help getting back on their feet.

The coalition's membership includes bankers, social service workers, and other residents of Benton County. The coalition was formed after the 2008 flood events in eastern Iowa, and has since helped those affected by disasters like the 2011 derecho and a tornado in 2016. However, the coalition began focusing on agriculture in September 2020 after the derecho in August.

Following the 2020 disaster, the organization has so far committed $34,000 in funds to help aid the recovery of farmers in Benton County. Funding was provided by multiple ag corporations.

"We've had everything from combine wear and tear after the storm punctured tires, a fuel trailer for a farmer, buildings that were excessively damaged, one producer that lost some livestock, and some fencing," says Walston, a member of the coalition since 2010. "We've had 18 cases on the ag side and have given anywhere from $25 up to $2,500. So it's not a huge amount, but we're trying to spread it out over Benton county and who needs help."

However, Walston adds, "the real story is neighbor helping neighbor."

"It has been a challenge for many to help their neighbor when they're busy cleaning up your own property, but many have taken on long-term projects to help a farm here and there," he says. "I've seen one individual in southern Benton County whose cattle buildings were badly damaged, and needed to get some buildings and sheds built. He had some close neighbors that helped debris down and helped him clean up to the point he could start calving."

"I spoke to the mayor of Van Horne [Marty Junge] recently. He said, August 11, some farmers were trying to figure out where to have their coffee – there was no electricity in Van Horne. So, they went to the fire department because they had a generator. People were still able to get together, have their coffee and see how everyone was doing after the storm. The world still went on," Walston adds. "When I was in Van Horne the week after the storm, I saw people with tractors dragging trees and cleaning up. The city of Van Horne has planted a lot of trees already."

Meanwhile, buildings like machine sheds and hog barns are being replaced.

"Some growers have already got pigs back in their buildings, and that's quick for a $450,000 building. That's pretty encouraging," Walston says. "People are building new machine sheds, and contractors are getting things done. People are starting to heal."

This growing season, many will be coming together to put a crop in the ground – in many cases in central Iowa, it will be soybeans due to widespread volunteer corn. And, in that same vein, it will take a community to be vigilant and manage any challenges that pop up this growing season. As many observed in 2020, regardless of what's happening in the world – pandemic or natural disaster –agriculture carries on.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Giving consumers the more sustainable cotton that they want

Consumers are increasingly interested in where their clothes and raw materials come from and the impact they have on the earth.  Sixty-eight percent of consumers consider sustainability important when  making a purchase, according to a study from CGS. There has never been a greater expectation for sustainability and transparency, as designers, brands and retailers around the globe are being held accountable for every step of their supply chain—from ensuring responsible labor and sustainable growing practices to delivering a circular lifecycle.

In a period of ever-greater supply chain scrutiny and growing demand for transparency and traceability, the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol sets a new standard for more sustainably grown cotton. It brings quantifiable and verifiable goals and measurements to sustainable cotton production and drives continuous improvement in key sustainability metrics.

By 2025, the Trust Protocol has committed to reducing U.S. cotton’s water use by 18%; energy use by 15%; greenhouse gas emissions by 39%; and raising soil carbon levels by 30%. In order to preserve our land, the Trust Protocol intends to increase land-use efficiency by 13% and decrease soil loss reduction by 50%.

U.S. cotton growers are continuing to innovate and utilize technology to help improve their sustainability. Today, almost 63% of U.S. cotton growers employ some type of precision technology.

“By joining the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, growers like me will be able to showcase our story and help demonstrate to brands and retailers that the U.S. is a leader in sustainable cotton growing practices,” said Kellon Lee, a cotton grower from St. Joseph, Louisiana.  “The program will also help improve our own sustainability efforts by allowing us to analyze and compare data year-over-year both from our farm and anonymously against other Trust Protocol growers.”

The Trust Protocol underpinsand verifies U.S. cotton’s sustainability progress through sophisticated data collection and independent third-party verification. Choosing Trust Protocol cotton will give brands and retailers the critical assurances they need that the cotton fiber element of their supply chain is more sustainably grown with lower environmental and social risk. Brands and retailers will gain access to U.S. cotton with sustainability credentials proven via Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, measured via the Field Calculator and verified with Control Union Certifications.

To learn more about the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, please visit TrustUSCotton.org

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Science of Farming

Submitted by: The Sugar Association  

Farming requires a lot of hard work and science to provide what the soil and crops need to flourish. Advancements in technologies have moved farming to a prescriptive science with some of the most recent improvements.

When we learn about farming in school it often starts with “Old McDonald had a Farm…” anends with children aware that farming is a job where people have animals and grow food. However, hundreds of acres is not the only difference between a farm and a vegetable garden. Farming is more than hard work, it requires knowledge, experience, and science. The definition of agriculture is “the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food and vother products.” As of 2018, 11% of U.S. employment comes from agriculture and related industries, resulting in approximately 22 million U.S. jobs.

Agriculture is a very difficult field (pun intended) and many schools even offer a specialized degree program on the study. Some topics include plant breeding and genetics, soil science, irrigation management, weed and pest prevention, environmental sustainability and much more.

Over the course of history, enhancements in science and technology have greatly impacted the agriculture industry. Early improvements like the invention of the hoe made a significant difference in efficiency and more modern improvements like the use of GPS to improve crop yield has made farming a prescriptive science. These inventions, along with many others, came from scientific research and farmer problem solving.

Did you know that soil needs to be healthy for long term success of crops? Farmers can’t replant the same thing on the same land every year. The necessity of rotating crops and fertilizing to improve soil quality and maintain a healthy environment is just one example of the everyday application of science in farming. Water sampling is also an important aspect of agriculture today. Scientists need to test irrigation water from many sources for bacteria and other pollutants to make sure it is safe for agriculture use.

As equipment technology has improved, farmers have taken advantage of tractors and many other machines to improve the efficiency of farming. In the 1990’s, discoveries like genetic engineering led to the first genetically modified crop. Genetically modified seeds have enhanced capabilities such as higher yields, drought resistance and disease resistance. The agriculture industry can now battle some of the uncontrollable obstacles of nature and weather with science. These technological advances have allowed us to make more food with the same or less resources. We are increasingly able to improve our food supply while also being kinder to the environment.

Today the USDA has many research centers that focus on a variety of topics to ensure continued improvements in agriculture. The USDA currently has research centers dedicated to improving sugar beet and sugar cane yield through weed prevention, managing disease, increase the overall quality and profitability, enhancing the viability of sugar use in biofuels and feedstock, among other things.

With over 7.5 billion people in the world, the need to feed them continues to grow. Farming has always been about feeding people, but science has allowed agriculture growth to outpace population growth and ensure the strength of our food supply. As of 2020, the food and agriculture industries have a combined economic impact of $7.5 trillion on the U.S. economy. “Food and agriculture don’t just ensure American families have food on the table — [farmers] feed the entire economy.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Kids Say the Darndest Farm Things

How to Bridge the Gap With Those Without a Direct Connection to the Farm

Contributed by Paulsen

A dad asked his three-and-a-half-year-old where bread comes from. Without hesitation, she responded, “It grows in the bag.” An eight-year-old from California joined her extended family as they worked calves at the dairy farm. “That cow is getting her ears pierced,” she exclaimed.

Helping to do chores at the cow/calf operation, a three-year-old donning his “farm boots” boldly noted the “daddy bulls” had all been fed, so it was time to feed the “mommy bulls.”

Riding in the combine with this grandpa, a little boy asked where all of the “corn pods” were going and when they would start combing the “bean kernels”?

Why Those Kids Say the Darndest Farm Things

While kids on the farm and baby animals are just about the cutest things around, these true stories they raise a red flag. The adult in each of these scenarios followed these cute remarks with a real-life farm fact. But what about the millions of youth, and adults, who have no one to provide that first-hand farm information?

The Paulsen team has been specializing in moving rural businesses forward for seven decades. And in that time, the number of Americans involved in production agriculture has dwindled to less than two percent from more than 40 percent.

In the span of three generations, diversity in agriculture has also changed. There was a time when every farm family raised chickens, hogs, corn, oats, soybeans, extensive gardens and milked cows. Moms baked their bread; kids helped churn butter; and everyone in the family got in on plucking and cleaning chickens. 

National Ag Day is an opportunity for us to remember how many of our American neighbors may have these same comments about their food source. While most adults wouldn’t assume “bread grows in a bag,” it is likely they think it merely comes from the grocery store shelf.

We Can’t Go It Alone in the Ag Industry

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact, the agriculture industry experienced the disconnect between farms and grocery stores. It opened the door for continued conversation and in the agricultural community, motivation.

Production agriculture has become increasingly productive. However, according to the American Farm Bureau, farmers and ranchers receive only eight cents out of every dollar spent on food (at home and dining out). The rest goes for costs beyond the farm gate: wages and materials for production, processing, marketing, transportation and distribution.

American agriculture must grow partnerships with the supply chain to tell the story of where bread, meat, milk and eggs come from. The marketing teams creating the packaging for the bread bag, meat wrapper, milk jug and egg carton hold the keys to what those cute kiddos we highlighted and millions of consumers young and old know about their food. 

Simple Opportunities Mean a Lot

If your corner of the agriculture industry is not connected to a major restaurant chain and you’re not Facebook friends with the marketing lead at a cereal manufacturer, you can still do your part.

It can be as simple as never passing up an opportunity to talk to kids about where their food comes from. By the way,

      Bread comes from wheat grown in a field. The wheat is ground up and baked into bread.

      Cows get ear tags to help tell them apart to track their information and keep them healthy. But yes, an ear tag is pretty much an earring for cows.

      Mommies are called cows. Bulls are only daddies. 

      The tall yellow ones are ears of corn, and the short ones are bean pods.

Visit with your local Rotary group about your role in agriculture. Share your job experiences with a high school careers class. Bring your nieces, nephews, cousins and friends out to your friend’s farm (and share, share, share the photos and experiences on social media). Support a local producer or give them a great Google review.

This Ag Day, we can all enjoy the cute things kids say about farming, as long as we know those are our future consumers, and we have a responsibility to share the story of agriculture. 


Monday, March 15, 2021

Inspiring ag teachers and future leaders

By David Kayser, chair of the Board of Trustees of the CHS Foundation and a member of the CHS Board of Directors

Today's ag teachers are inspiring tomorrow's rural leaders. 
At Minnesota's Detroit Lakes High School, student (left)
Jenna Tollefson and ag teacher Janelle Hueners catch
up between classes.

One of my sons studied at Mitchell Technical College and brought ideas back to our farm that changed and improved how we manage our operation immensely. That’s the power of agricultural education.

Ag education has always been important for kids with a love of farming, like my sons, but today there aren’t enough farm kids to meet the demands of our industry. We need to pique more students’ interest in ag careers and encourage them to pursue training.

It’s exciting to think about the types of people who will work side by side with my sons on their operation in the future. When you think about how the next generations might not even use fossil fuels to put food on the table, it makes you realize we need diverse perspectives to help meet tomorrow’s needs.

The CHS Foundation opens the eyes of students of all ages and from all backgrounds to the endless opportunities that are available in agriculture. We support their career aspirations through youth leadership programs, scholarships, university partnerships, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and more. Over the next three years, the CHS Foundation will invest $11.5 million to enlighten 25,000 students about ag careers, teach 12,000 people about co-ops, and motivate 125,000 future leaders. We partner with strong institutions and programs to magnify the impact of every dollar.

Over the years, teachers have told me how thankful they are to receive funding from farmer-owned cooperatives. I’ve also seen how critical it is for young people to have continuity in their ag programs. Through the National Teach Ag Campaign, the CHS Foundation helps recruit and retain high school ag teachers dedicated to inspiring the next generation of leaders.

Ag teachers are known for being innovative and creative. The CHS Foundation recently helped 10 teachers bring big ideas to life by giving them $500 grants for providing hands-on experiences – a simple idea you might consider in your own community. Schools used the grants to buy equipment for an agriscience lab and an ag mechanics’ shop, fund artificial insemination training, purchase weed-mapping technology, and help students produce greenhouse crops, eggs, honey and syrup. As one teacher said: “This project is popular among students because it teaches real world skills and allows students to explore their passion for agriculture.” Let’s keep working together to fuel that enthusiasm.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Dairy Women in Leadership Roles

Submitted by Edge DairyFarmer Cooperative

Women are getting more involved in the dairy community and are finding themselves in leadership roles more often. Dairy Stream host Mike Austin spoke with three accomplished women about the value of leadership and advice they had for other women to get involved. Amy Penterman of Dutch Dairy, Heidi Fischer of Fischer-Clark Dairy Farm and Jamie Witcpalek of Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy talked in-depth about their challenges over the years and seizing the leadership opportunity when it arises. Thank you to Cargill for sponsoring this podcast. This podcast is co-produced by the Dairy Business Association and Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, sister organizations that fight for effective dairy policy in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. Listen to Dairy Stream on your favorite podcast app or here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021


Agriculture One Year Later

Karen Jones, Growmark

Anyone who uses Facebook is likely familiar with their “Memories” feature. I usually enjoy reading about what I was doing on any given day in the past, seeing old pictures of family and friends, recalling travel and work events, and sometimes just laughing at situations shared that had been long forgotten.

As this month began, I started paying more attention to posts from last year. Pictures of a meal in a busy restaurant, comments about attending a work conference, my daughter celebrating her 100th day of school. Little did we know that by the end of March 2020, life as we knew it would change dramatically.

Seemingly overnight we all had to make adaptations to the way we lived and worked. Office buildings transitioned quickly to a remote workforce. New precautions and restrictions were added to attempt to flatten the curve. Students received the longest spring break ever as schools tested virtual classrooms.

But amid it all, agriculture never stopped. Frankly, it couldn’t.

Livestock needed to be fed and cared for. Crops needed to be planted, fertilized, and harvested. Equipment needed repair and commodities needed to be moved across the country and around the world. Essential was the right word to describe the agricultural industry, and we rose to the occasion.

However, it wasn’t completely business as usual. Technology was quickly employed, and sometimes created, to assist in getting the job done efficiently and safely. Some of these tools, such as video conferencing, were already available but perhaps not widely used, while others were developed to fill needs uncovered during 2020.

For example, the recently released myFS Solutions Center was in progress pre-COVID, but it has proven more valuable in a world where face-to-face interaction isn’t always possible. From a single digital location, FS customers can view their account information, pay invoices, explore field-level data, sign contracts, and receive information from their FS sales personnel at any time and from any location. While nothing can replace personal relationships, this tool helps enhance efficiency and communication between farmers and their local FS cooperatives.

While 2020 was a year that won’t soon be forgotten, I hope that it’s also a year we can look back on and see positive, lasting changes to the way we live and work. After all, even the most essential of industries still has room to grow.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

7 Ways Science has Improved Food Variety

David Pinzon, Corteva Agriscience

Thanking farmers should be an everyday occurrence, and National Agriculture Day is yet another great opportunity to recognize the work being done throughout the agriculture industry to innovate and support the ever-changing needs of the consumer.

As parents, we sometimes tend to think about the good old days, when we played in the street all day and sat down on the curb with an ice cream purchased from the neighborhood truck. While I’m nostalgic for the past, from a food science point of view, what we have today far outpaces what was available even two decades ago.

During the past 100 years, the variety in food choices has gone from minimal and reserved for the wealthy to widespread and affordable. Even though this is not true everywhere in the world, agriculture innovation is helping ensure everyone has access to a variety of food options.

Feeding children the healthiest possible food is top-of-mind for all parents; however, it is often easier said than done. With my first daughter, who is now 4, I prioritized healthy food options when she started eating. I focused on just a few foods I knew were good for her that she liked. However, I missed a very important point: variety. My good intentions backfired, as she started hating her favorites, such as broccoli and spinach.

Luckily, scientists have created innovations that allow us to choose among a variety of foods while maintaining good eating habits. National Agriculture day marks a time when we thank producers, agricultural associations and others, for their commitment to agriculture and to supplying a growing world with a variety of healthy food options. Let’s take a look at several important advancements that have helped us have access to a variety of healthy food options at affordable prices.

  • Breeding: Do your kids like kale but not cabbage? Or maybe broccoli but not cauliflower? No problem, they are all the same species, Brassica oleracea, for which breeders selected variants of the plants. This allows us to have a wider variety of options out of the same plant species, while benefiting from a similar nutritional profile when the same part of the plant is eaten (for example, broccoli versus cauliflower).
  • Frozen food: Flash-freezing allows us to have meals that include nutrient-dense ingredients that may not be local or seasonal. This includes salmon that has been flown thousands of kilometers or ensuring there is enough turkey in stock for the holidays. Frozen foods also helped us to have the capacity to afford more healthy options. Cauliflower rice is a great example of something that has a longer shelf life when frozen.
  • Food fortification: Not everyone has access to enough variety of foods. Fortifying staple foods allows us to supplement our diet. Great examples are iodine in salt, vitamins in milk and folic acid in multiple cereals, breads and pastas. Folic acid can help women get the correct nutrients in case of pregnancy, as it is critical in neural tube development in utero. It is also beneficial to men, supporting heart health.
  • Pest management: Keeping plants healthy and growing to their maximum potential is crucial to producing more on the same amount of land. Protecting these plants from pests and diseases is crucial to maximizing growth potential. This translates to increased quantities of food, lower food prices and greater variety.

  • Preservatives: While daily grocery shopping would be ideal, it often isn’t practical. Food preservatives allow us to keep food fresh longer, making it easier for that once-a-week grocery trip.
  • Trait modification: Food variety is not always a matter of healthy options. Many times, it enables us to perfect the art of cooking. Think about apples. There are numerous options specific for snacking, salads, baking, juicing and cooking. And now we even have access to apples that don’t brown, the Arctic apple, a GMO variety that helps reduce food waste. Additionally, scientific advancements, like CRISPR-cas, a genetic-editing tool, are helping trait modifications become even more prominent and beneficial.
  • Processing: Baby carrots aren’t harvested that way. They are created when normal carrots are cut to the perfect size and with rounded edges, making it a perfect snack for kids and adults.

Overall, we have plenty of choices, and as long as we keep trusting scientific advancements, food is just going to keep getting better. I can’t wait for 50 years from now, when our kids may think of how, in the old days, their food choices were limited.

I’m proud to play a role in helping advance food variety improvements and agricultural advancements by working for Corteva Agriscience. At Corteva, we’ve harnessed the best and brightest minds in agriculture to help enrich the lives of those who produce and those who consume, ensuring progress for generations to come. Join me in thanking and celebrating farmers and other agricultural professionals during National Agriculture Day. Their tireless work helps us make tomorrow a little brighter than today.

About David:

David Pinzon

Regulatory Affairs Manager, Crop Protection and Seeds, Corteva Agriscience

David grew up in Bogota, Colombia, and moved to Canada in 2009 with his wife to study for a PhD at the University of Alberta. They had their second child in May 2018.
“It is a constant learning to find out what’s the best for them. That’s why being able to share my science knowledge and experience with other parents is gratifying.”
David dedicated 12 years of his life to become a scientist. “Learning science is probably simpler than knowing what’s best for my kids, so I understand how it feels being exposed to so much conflicting information.”
David’s priority is always to do what’s best for his daughters. “I have the pleasure to see the huge amount of scientific support needed to prove GMOs and pesticides are safe for humans and the environment, so I can pass along my knowledge to those that are eager to learn.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

 Why do farmers care about conservation?

Long-term farm success depends on sustainable practices

By Rachel Schutte, ASA, CSSA, and SSSA

 An American poet once said, “Nature is not a place to visit, it is home.” Many of us can relate to this quote, as self-proclaimed outdoor adventurists.

This quote especially rings true for farmers and ranchers. They rely on the land for a bountiful harvest, mother nature for her cooperation, and the outdoors for their lifestyle.

Over 90% of American farms are family owned. So, the preservation of natural resources will also likely determine the success of a farm as it’s handed down to the generations to come. Caring for these resources is also like an unwritten agreement between neighbors, as the resources, like water, are shared. Ultimately, farmers cannot afford to not take care of the land – it supplies their income, recreation and future dreams. 

Many farmers pay extra attention to the long-term balance of natural resources related to their farmland and adjacent land and water. This is known as “sustainability.” The success of their farm operations depends on maintaining this balance of resources including water, nutrients and soil.

It’s easy to find examples of public land being set aside for conservation efforts and wildlife habitat. The United States Bureau of Land Management even has a specific program called the National Conservation Lands protecting about 34 million acres of land. However, conservation on private lands makes up the majority of habitat for wildlife in the U.S. Private landowners, like farmers, play a vital role in the game of conservation.

Farmers and ranchers are looking into ways to protect the ecological balance on their land now more than ever. And, the public is paying attention.


Streams on farms are common. Edge-of-field practices like prairie strips help prevent erosion and keep nutrients from escaping into nearby water. Credit: R Leege   

Restoring ecological balance

One way farmers and ranchers are restoring ecological balance is by returning unproductive farmland back into prairie habitat. Why would farmers take land out of crop production when we have a growing population? Because the long-term effects of protecting the resources we need to grow our food outweigh the decrease in food production and on-farm income.

Areas of prairie habitat between farm fields, such as buffer strips or entire blocks of prairie, can provide many benefits. Prairie plants and grasses have huge root systems that keep fertile topsoil in place. When heavy rains or windy storms come, prairies prevent soil from washing away.  In turn, nutrients and soil stay in place in the field for the next year’s crop to grow.

Prairie habitats also add to ecological diversity. Agriculture is not natural. Fields of one crop are grown, which creates a “monoculture” system. Monocultures can disrupt the natural balance of a food chain. This can make the area prone to pests that eat crops and weeds that steal nutrients. Without a balanced food chain, there are not enough natural predators or competing plants around to keep them at bay. By planting areas of prairie, farmers can restore the food chain by giving native mammals, birds and insects a place to thrive. These native species can help keep agricultural pest populations in check.

Another undeniable benefit of natural prairies is their beauty. Prairies can create privacy, provide colorful flowers throughout the year, and give home to endless wildlife. Many of us enjoy these benefits through our hobbies – photography, hiking, wildlife watching, and more.

Large farm equipment – necessary for farm efficiency – take wide turns. This means that some natural areas were put into agricultural land. There is a movement to re-plant prairies for ecological conservation. Credit: R Schutte    

How were these natural systems broken?
Throughout history, some human practices unintentionally decreased natural habitats. This is quite evident in suburban areas where fields and forests are quickly turning into housing, schools, and stores. Urban areas aren’t the only culprit, though.

For example, larger farm equipment has become much more prevalent in recent years. Larger equipment helps farmers save time with fewer trips around the field and allows them to care for more land in the same amount of time. However, larger equipment also made it more difficult to take care of smaller fields with less space to turn around. So, former natural areas between fields and along fence lines were removed to accommodate equipment.

Natural areas provide food and habitat to attract pollinators, which are needed to pollinate crops. Credit: Pete Leege

Challenges and solutions

Creating prairie habitat also presents farmers and ranchers with their fair share of challenges. The biggest is cost. Not only the costs of seed and equipment to start a prairie, but also the opportunity cost for not growing profitable crops on that land.

Luckily, with increased support for our environment and ecosystems, there are tools available to help farmers with these costs. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has conservation programs to help reduce soil erosion, protect water quality and increase wildlife habitat. Included with these programs are funding opportunities for farmers and other landowners. Financial and technical assistance can help some farmers start conservation planning, implement conservation practices in their operations, improve habitat, improve water quality and more. There are even innovation grants for innovative approaches for conservation on agricultural land.

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t love the outdoors. We care about the environment, and we want to protect our natural ecosystems. Farmers are right there with us!

Learn more about agriculture and the environment on the Sustainable, Secure Food Blog and the Soils Matter Blog

American Society of Agronomy, Soil Science Society of America, Crop Science Society of America
: Collectively, these Societies represent more than 12,000 individual members around the world. Members are researchers and professionals in the areas of growing our world’s food supply while protecting our environment. Together we work toward solutions to advance scientific knowledge in the areas of agronomy, crop science, and soil science.

@ASA_CSSA_SSSA & @SSSA_soils | FacebookASACSSA & SSSA | Instagram@sustainablefoodsupply & @iheartsoil