Everyday is Earth Day for Farmers
Communities across America observed the 33rd annual Earth Day in April with recycling projects, park beautification, car-free travel, tree-planting activities and neighborhood clean-ups. I applaud Iowans who organized and participated in their own local events to pay tribute to God’s green earth. In the last three decades, Earth Day has sought to educate and motivate people to leave behind a better, cleaner place for our children and our children’s children.
Arguably no one has a greater connection and appreciation for Mother Nature and Earth’s precious resources than the farm families whose very livelihoods depend on them year in and year out. Without their commitment to conservation and environmental stewardship, America’s breadbasket would not be overflowing with high-quality, agricultural abundance.
As the nation’s leading producer of soybeans, corn, hogs and farm-fresh eggs, Iowa also continues to lead the country in the use of conservation tillage practices, protecting millions of acres of cropland from erosion. According to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa ranks first in the nation in the number of acres set aside as riparian buffers, grassed waterways, contour buffer strips, field borders and other buffers on private farmlands.
Conscientious stewards of the soil, Iowa farmers work to reduce soil erosion, protect water quality, curb pesticide and nutrient run-off and lower fuel costs by practicing common sense conservation. The 2002 Crop Residue Management Survey shows Iowa farmers used conservation tillage on 12.8 million acres last year. That's more than half of the total cropped acreage in the state. No-till systems were used on about 5 million acres. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, no-till farming in Iowa has increased by 1,000 percent since 1990. Conservation tillage has climbed more than 275-percent since 1990.
As a life-long family farmer, I understand the economic and ecological benefits that go hand in hand with preserving and improving natural resources. Without a sustained commitment to soil preservation, nutrient management and water quality protection, crop yield and quality, profitability and even land values would slide, to say nothing about the moral responsibility we bear as caretakers of the land, air and water for our neighbors and the next generation.
Whether through conventional methods, including crop rotation, to high-precision practices, which may include use of advanced technologies such as Global Positioning Systems and genetically engineered seeds, farmers young and old work to find harmony with the environment and the needs of their farming operation.
The federal government sees the public value in protecting America’s treasured natural resources. That’s why financial incentives and technical assistance are offered to farmers, ranchers and landowners to promote farmland conservation.
In fiscal year 2003, Iowa will receive more than $68 million in federal funding (behind only California and Texas) through the USDA to promote farmland conservation. Nearly half of this amount will be distributed through voluntary conservation, including programs for protecting and restoring wetland acres; assisting livestock producers to improve soil, water and air quality; protecting farmland in the Loess Hills and Upper Iowa River/Mississippi Blufflands region; and helping landowners to improve fish and wildlife habitat.
In addition, the USDA recently announced a new Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) sign-up. CRP allows voluntary participants to receive financial incentives to remove environmentally sensitive land from agriculture production by entering into long-term contracts for 10-15 years. The CRP general sign-up will run May 5 through May 30, 2003. Sign-up will take place at local USDA offices.
As farmers fan out across the countryside to plant a new crop, all Iowans, both rural and urban, can take pride in our state’s agricultural heritage. Although fewer farmers are making a living off the land, each of us is a stakeholder in production agriculture.
Consider American agriculture’s stake in:
? U.S. Economy: The agricultural sector accounts for 15 percent of the Gross Domestic Product; creates 25 million American jobs; produces $3.5 trillion output;
? National Security: "A nation that can feed its own people is a nation more secure." – President George W. Bush;
? Basic Survival: We all need to eat. And U.S. consumers get the best deal in the world, paying just 10.9 percent of income for high-quality, reliable, affordable supply of food, the lowest in the world.
As the only working family farmer in the U.S. Senate, I take pride in bringing Iowa’s agricultural heritage to the policymaking tables in Washington. And I share the sentiments of President Thomas Jefferson: "Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens…they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds."
That’s why I work so hard to advance policies that help farmers harmonize their profitability and production output with common sense conservation practices that protect and improve Earth’s natural resources.