A New Level of Leadership

In farm country, there’s a new breed of leaders. Whether it’s a family operation, a small farm, or a larger operation – there’s a new level of sophistication among today’s farmers.

Long gone are the days when everyone farmed a few acres, had a big garden and usually a flock of chickens. Long gone are the days when the farm uniform was overalls. And we shouldn’t mourn those days.

In fact, most of us are happy to leave agriculture to others who aspire to run today’s modern operations, while some of us aspire to be involved in agriculture through all the affiliated jobs.

It’s not adequate to describe a phenomenon that’s been going on for the last 30 years as the second-modernization of agriculture. Because after WWII, agriculture had already been reshaped by great leaps in mechanization, hybrid crops, the Green Revolution, value added uses, global development and the list goes on.

Almost silently, farmers have been getting smarter, more sophisticated, and very nimble. It requires greater expertise to run today’s operation from the planting to harvesting and everything in between. It means being able to jump between a number of tasks, requirements, deadlines, the physical and the cognitive.

Now that’s not to say that farmers can’t improve the work they do, or that just because they feed and increasingly “fuel” the rest of us that they should be given a free pass to do whatever they please when it comes to production, marketing and environmental issues, because neither of those extremes would be tenable.

Nor would it be tenable for the rest of us to create regulatory, environmental or even extreme resource demands that would strangle ingenuity and productivity and profitability out of the farmers.

No, instead we should support the efforts of today’s farmers who are doing a remarkable job of advancing the 25x’25 goal; in doing so we will help America bring new technologies to market, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, create new jobs in rural America, and help clean up the environment by reducing smog and GHG emissions.

Some examples of the new environmental leadership among today’s farmers:

· Since 2004, Iowa soybean farmers have funded almost $20 million in environmental programs and services through the Iowa Soybean Association, including water quality testing and monitoring in soybean growing areas of the state.

· The Illinois Corn Growers Association’s “Keep it for the Crop by 2025” is collaborative program to promote, implement and track the rate of adoption of enhanced nutrient stewardship practices by agricultural producers in Illinois, focusing on the 4R’s of Nutrient Stewardship: Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time and Right Place.

· Witness the leadership of California farmer Craig McNamara, named agriculturalist of the year by the California State Fair. He brings together disparate parties to help solve the agricultural and environmental challenges of our time, and educates the next generation at his Center for Land Based Learning.

· The Missouri Corn Growers Association works to increase the market for ethanol, a clean-burning renewable fuel, along with accelerating the adoption of farming practices that improve water quality.

· Since 2011, our nation’s dairy farmers have used digesters on farms to reduce GHGs by more than 4.7 million metric tons—the equivalent of nearly one million cars off the road for a year. In addition, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy reports that farmers have completed energy audits to identify ways to reduce energy consumption by 55,500 million MMBtu’s.

· Universities and partners across the Southeast are holding a Woody Crop Whistle Stop Tour so forest owners can see small scale biomass to electricity generation in operation and learn more about growing short rotation wood crops.

· The American Soybean Association reports that U.S. soybean growers have used sustainable practices to decrease energy use and GHG emissions by more than 45 percent since 1980, and increased irrigation efficiency by 40 percent over the same time.

· Three producer groups have formed the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance with a mission to dramatically accelerate the pace and scale of water quality improvements—to reduce the level of nutrients that flow into Iowa’s waterways.

· The Field to Market initiative, now led by a stand-alone not-for-profit organization has documented improved performance in managing soils, water, and nutrients—concurrent with increased productivity from 1980 to 2011.

These examples are among the many efforts of today’s famers. From the “every day” efforts to reduce fuel use, time the application of fertilizer only if it is needed based on tests, and other examples, to those activities away from home—serving on a commission to develop a voluntary nutrient reduction and management plan for their state, and in so many other ways.

These farmers are the very definition of the new breed of farmer. Committed leaders—committed to the environmental health of their operations; leaders committed to a healthy future agriculture in this county; leaders committed to the vision of 25x’25—to continue to produce safe, abundant and affordable food, feed, fiber and renewable energy.

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