The last few days social media has been blowing up with Earth Day celebrations. Earth Day was born in 1970 by protestors in response to "the deterioration of the environment," according to EarthDay.org.
This morning on our farm, we will get up and go to work like we always do.
We will check cows that are grazing our crop fields, currently seeded with turnips, radishes, and cereal rye. We refer to that mixture as cover crops, which we've been using on the farm for the last eight years or so, and they provide immeasurable environmental benefit. They reduce our chemical usage, runoff and erosion while increasing our soil organic matter and soil microbes. That means healthier fields and healthier environment surrounding our fields.
The cows grazing those cover crops leave behind their own manure. That means that many of the nutrients and organic matter they ate will be dropped back on the ground our corn and soybeans will be planted in. That reduces our need for synthetic fertilizers - which are safe and effective - but an added expense.
While the cows are grazing, Matt and Steve will be planting. Our corn planters will be running across last year's bean fields that haven't been tilled (or plowed).
Tillage has historically been used to control weeds and break up soil prior to planting. No-till farming means fewer trips with big tractors across our fields which means we shrink our carbon footprint. No-till farming, just like cover crops, also reduces our runoff and soil loss from erosion. No-till farming is healthier for our dirt and therefore keeps our soil bugs happier and more abundant.
Notice I also said they are planting corn on to a field that grew soybeans last year. On our farm, like most crop farms, crop rotations are vital. Rotating the crops each year is better for us and better for the environment surrounding our farm.
Other things across the farms like terracing, tiling, and grass strips are some of the tools modern farms like ours use to protect our environment.
Our farm also has areas of CRP. Also know as the Conservation Reserve Program, this program allows farmers to take eligible fields out of crop production and grow native grasses for wildlife.
Fencing is a less recognized environmental protection on many farms. We use fence to keep the cows out of certain areas - like ponds or areas highly susceptible to erosion- to protect the environment.
We also use fence to create multiple paddocks across all of our grazing farms. This allows us to rotate our cows from pasture to pasture (rotationally graze) which actually uses less land and resource per cow!
You see, it is not that we don't like Earth Day. Like most farmers, we are actually thrilled that people around the world take a day away from their routines to focus on better protecting our environment.
But Earth Day isn't relevant here. We cannot simply set aside one day out of the year to think about our Earth. Here on our farm we have to talk about, think about, and take action each and every day to protect our environment.
This is our livelihood and our legacy, which means we have to be constantly focused on our little piece of the Earth and how we can continue to improve our surroundings, not deteriorate them.
Like my 5 year old learned at school, around here, "Everyday is Earth Day!"
Happy Earth Day!
Corn planting started yesterday which means this past week the sprayer had been running hard to get ready. The sprayer will cover all of our corn acres prior to planting to terminate any cover crops, weeds or grass. It will also provide a brief window of protection from new weeds popping up, so that the baby corn get a chance to break through the ground and get going before being overtaken.
When I get to talk to people about our farm, the sprayer seems to be the most notorious piece of machinery we own! During those conversations, I realize there is a lot of misinformation about spraying and chemical use on the farm. Here are a few things we wish everyone knew about spraying.
1. We do not soak our crops in chemical.
Today Matt was using the smaller sprayer because the larger one was waiting on a part to come in. This sprayer has a 420 gallon tank - of which approximately 394 gallons, or 94%, is WATER! Glyphosate (RoundUp) has a typical application rate of 16-32 ounces per acre! That is "Not a Latte!" as shown by this award winning CommonGround video!
Spraying is an important tool for farmers to control pests – but spraying takes time and money. We are very careful to limit the amount of chemical (and cost) to only what is needed.
2. Chemical use in farming did not start with GMOs.
While my husband was driving the sprayer, I visited with my father-in-law about spraying. He talked to me about the chemicals he used long before GMO corn and soybeans became available for him to grow – some of them we still use today, many of them we do not. Many of them have been replaced by less toxic, but more effective man-made chemicals that are safer for our farms and for the farmers. It's also interesting to note that pesticide use is not limited to conventional farms - organic farms use pesticides as well! These organic farmers do a great job of discussing that here.
Farmers and scientists know that today's chemicals, and how we use them, is much safer and better understood than in decades past.
3. Pesticide use on farms is actually decreasing!
Thanks in huge part to technology and better farming practices that includes tools like GMO’s and cover crops, chemical use is actually decreasing on farms in the US!
USDA data indicates that chemical usage on farms increased until 1981 and has since been steadily decreasing. This is true on our own farm as well, where we have seen significant reduction in chemicals in the last decade alone.
The increased use of glyphosate is often cited by people trying to create fear of food and farming. Glyphosate use has indeed increased with the development of resistant crops, but it has replaced chemicals that had to be used in higher doses and more frequently.
4. Tillage is not a better alternative to spraying for our farm.
My father in law was one of the first in our county to adopt no-till practices and we take a lot of pride in NOT tilling our farms.
On our farms, for the type of soils and topography we have, tillage can be very damaging. Using new technology - equipment designed for no-till farming, chemistry, GMOs - we have been able to remain a no-till farm. And for us that means less soil erosion, less run-off, less compaction, more organic matter in our soils, a healthier environment for all the microorganisms in our soils. In other words, it has made our dirt healthier!
5. EVERYTHING is a chemical!
Between a lack of basic science understanding and fear mongering used in marketing everything from toilet bowl cleaner to our food, people have developed an unfounded fear of the word "chemical". Chemicals are neither good or bad, and all matter is made up of chemicals. I love this post on Scientific American that explains more about chemicals.
Despite popular belief, modern chemicals and spraying practices are one of the many tools that have made our farm, and other farms like ours, more sustainable!
Check back soon for updates on #Plant17!
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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