“Do Farmers Care About the Environment?” Yes, and here’s why! – Soil Edition

By Sydney Garrett

A hot topic on everyone’s mind is the ever-changing environment we live in and how our daily life affects it. You may do your part by biking to class or using refillable water bottles, but what about the food you eat? Is it being produced in a sustainable way? Do farmers care about the environment? 

Yes, farmers do care about the environment, and they go to great lengths to protect it from harm. The USDA outlines four major principles farmers take part in to improve soil health.

1. Maximize Soil Cover 

If you are out in the sun without sunblock for too long, you may damage your skin; the soil is no different. Leaving soil barren can cause erosion. Erosion occurs when natural elements, such as water or wind, begin to slowly break down and wear away soil. Farmers combat this problem by planting cover crops. Cover crops are planted after the main harvest, acting as a blanket for the soil. Not only do cover crops protect the soil, but they also increase biodiversity and replenish nutrients in the soil. 

2. Minimize Disturbance 

Soil disturbance has to happen to produce a crop, but farmers take great care to minimize disruption to their soil. Such as limiting tillage (tillage is mechanically breaking up the soil for crop growth) and optimizing chemical input through precise calculations. Minimizing disturbance can also help prevent soil compaction, increasing aeration and room for biodiversity. Decreasing the number of times farmers drive over their fields with heavy equipment is another simple and easy way to increase the longevity in their fields.

3. Maximize Biodiversity

Biodiversity is the variety of life that can be found on earth (including plants, animals, fungi, and macro-organisms) and how life works together to survive. Every field has a different ecosystem with its own biodiversity. Farmers understand this and do their part to maximize diversity. Changing their crop rotations, integrating livestock, and planting diverse cover crops are all ways to increase biodiversity. These practices can decrease disease while providing new homes for pollinators and other organisms that call the soil home.

4. Maximize Presence of Living Roots 

Here is an example of crop residue left on a field, protecting it from wind, water, and ice. You can also see the use of a cover crop, rye.

Just like how cover crops act as a blanket to protect the soil from above, roots also do a great job of holding the soil in place, protecting it from below. Strong, healthy roots provide food for earthworms and microbes that live in the soil. As roots grow they become more robust, releasing precious nutrients into the soil. Many farmers used to till their soil after the harvest of a crop, but after extensive research on what causes erosion, they learned it is actually better to leave their field with the crop residue! 

Healthy soil produces a healthy crop, and a healthy crop makes for a fruitful harvest. A fruitful harvest means that a farmer can feed his livestock and support their family year-round.

Farmers are passionate about their work, spending long hours in their fields and late nights in the barn when cows are calving. They take an abundance of pride in their work, understanding that every inch of soil needs to be nurtured and cared for so it will last for years to come.

So next time someone asks, “Do farmers care about the environment?” I hope your response is “Yes! Please let me tell you how.”

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