Thursday, July 8, 2010

Farmers and Ranchers, Ultimate Environmentalists

Yesterday I had the unique opportunity to take part in a survey administered by two K-State geography students. This survey was gauging how those of us in agriculture viewed climate and the environment around us. As I answered I realized those of us in agriculture go to great lengths to protect our environment. Here is what I shared with them.

Farmers and ranchers have always been keenly aware of the land, water and air around them and we have always tried to protect those valuable assets. But in the past ten years we have come to an even greater understanding of how to protect and improve the world around us. Improvements in technology (yes, the same technology the radical fringes would try to use against us) have allowed us to preserve more of the soil, water and air we all depend on.

Advances such as genetically modified crops have allowed us to use better herbicides allowing for less invasive weed control methods. Many of us now use herbicides such as Round-up to control weeds rather than mechanically cultivating the ground. Mechanical cultivation tills the soil allowing for erosion due to the wind and water. By not tilling up the land we are also keeping more of the organic matter on the soil surface. This not only helps hold the critical top soil in place but also helps with the overall fertility of the soil.

No-till farming practices coupled with soil conservation methods such as terraces and water-ways help to insure that we will never see another Dust Bowl. Not only protecting our soil but our air quality too. Our farmland is not only healthier but more productive than it ever has been and we are striving to improve it everyday.

I also noted that we have improved our native range. Many ranchers are utilizing methods such as rotational grazing to improve the health of our native warm-season grasses. We have a better understanding of the growth patterns of our grasses and we can tailor grazing programs, prescribed burning of those native ranges and herbicides to keep them growing vigorously and free of invasive brush. Our tall grass native prairie in the Flint Hills is a very fragile ecosystem and must be maintained with regular burning and grazing. Our ranchers have an intimate understanding of the ecosystem and work tirelessly to maintain and improve it for our future generations.

The final part of the survey was about climate change. The students looked at me with furrowed brows when I told them I thought it was fairly egotistical of us to think we could change the earth's climate. Personally I believe everything runs in cycles and we must work with those cycles. However, I am also equally sure that as farmers and ranchers we are doing everything we can to both protect and improve the environment around us.

I am not sure what they thought of my answers. They were very polite and told me they would share the results of the survey with me this fall. What I am sure of is that as I answered their questions, I once again reaffirmed my belief that those of us in agriculture are the ultimate environmentalists. After all we are the stewards of the land who rely on the air, soil and water around us to make a living off of the land and we are the same stewards of the land dedicated to protect it for future generations.