Tuesday of this week, March 15th, was marked by the celebration of National Ag Day, when producers, agricultural associations, corporations, universities, government agencies and countless others from across the United States gathered to celebrate the benefits provided by American agriculture.
The day was marked by policy discussions, speeches and salutations at events in Washington, D.C., and in states across the country to recognize the role America’s farmers and ranchers continue to play in meeting the food, feed and fiber demands of a growing world population.
However, this week’s observations are just the latest in what has been a growing recognition of agriculture’s transition into a much broader role. America’s farmers and ranchers have been rightfully commended for providing the food and fiber that this nation enjoys and the world needs over the past century. But now, U.S. agriculture also provides clean, renewable energy; biodiversity that enhances habitats; stewardship of natural, sustainable resources; and in most cases, a line of defense in efforts to reduce global emissions that contribute to a changing climate.
Sponsors of National Ag Day events around the country made it their mission to make their neighbors aware of how food, fiber and renewable resource products are produced; as well as underscore and give value to the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy. They also aimed to generate among all Americans a sense of appreciation for the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products. And they brought light to the career opportunities in the agriculture, food, fiber and renewable resource industries.
Agriculture in America has typically been more thought of in the traditional sense of families putting in long hours to produce rows and rows of commodities that find their way to dinner tables around the country. However, what doesn’t often come to mind are the multiple roles that the men and women who farm our productive lands must take on every day – conservationist, agronomist, environmental engineer, logistician, transportation manager, manpower specialist, communicator, marketer and financial planner, among many others.
Along with this rise in required skills comes a relatively new set of responsibilities that U.S. farmers have readily taken on. They understand that they must take the necessary steps to not only maintain the productive capacity of their lands, but they must also put in practice those land management protocols that serve the wider good and contribute to a more sustainable planet.
U.S. farmers understand good conservation practices not only enhance soil, air and water quality, but also offer strong economic benefits – a finding particularly true in the production of biofuel feedstocks. U.S. farmers have positioned themselves to meet much of the nation’s renewable energy needs in a way that is economically and environmentally sustainable. They engage in innovative practices and the wise management of natural resources, such as soil, water and energy, to ensure our food production capacity remains strong for generations to come.
Among those practices that U.S. agriculture has advanced are no-till and reduced tillage techniques that increase the amount of water that infiltrates the soil, boost organic matter retention and the cycling of nutrients in the soil, stem soil erosion and help retain much of the carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.
Cover crops are another practice growing among U.S. agricultural producers. Grasses, legumes and other plants are grown between rotations of commodity crops, such as corn and soybeans, to manage soil fertility, soil quality, water, weeds, pests and diseases, and reduce fertilizer use, all while enhancing biodiversity and wildlife habitat.
National Ag Day this year, and in the years going forward, underscores the part farmers and ranchers play not only in putting food and fiber on our store shelves, but also in developing and building the practices and management tools needed to sustainably meet society’s increasing demand for food, fiber, energy and a healthy environment. We commend these stewards of the land in their efforts.