April 21, 2013 in Opinion

Earth Day’s ground floor

Judy Olson
 

Since its inception in 1970, Earth Day has led to enormous growth in understanding 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 let’s celebrate a day to honor all that we’re doing for our Earth at the ground level.

When I’ve asked farmers and ranchers I know about Earth Day, the humble and honest reply I usually get is: “Every day is Earth Day.”

Where pavement turns to gravel and dirt, you will find rural men and women rising early and working the soil. Their office space is outdoors in the sun, wind, rain and sometimes snow. They are working hard to feed a hungry world. They are the people who till the soil, plant the fields, fertilize, prune, irrigate, pick, pack and ship our food. Before 1970, some did these activities without awareness of the consequences related to certain aspects of production. Today, things are different.

Farmers and ranchers who participate in federal farm programs carry out conservation plans as a requirement of their participation. Even when commodity prices are high, as they have been recently, farmers have kept some of the most erodible land protected in the Conservation Reserve Program. They have invested time and money to implement conservation practices on the rest of their land.

On many of today’s farms and ranches, you might find a variety of methods used to control insects and disease instead of a reliance on pesticides to prevent plant destruction. You might see machinery and vehicles designed for reduced emissions or more use of biofuels. You might spot farmers reducing particulate matter (dust) and greater dependence on renewable energy to provide electricity for their homes, barns and sheds.

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 increasing concern about 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.

In America today, wide-spread bio-research and development of new production techniques help modern farmers 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. Our soil and freshwater supply need our attention. 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 and fiber supplies in the future will happen only when we have a healthy Earth to supply them.

We have resilient and resourceful farmers and ranchers here Washington. We have the hardest working people at the U.S. 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 the contributions of farmers and ranchers; it’s a good day to be thankful, too, for an agreeable climate, productive soils and water resources. And it’s a good day to pledge that we will continue to care for Washington’s resources. It’s a great state and a great place to be involved in agriculture at the ground level. Let’s make it last.

For more information about the Earth Day initiative, visit www.earthday.org

Judy Olson is the state executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.


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