Today is Earth Day which seems like the perfect time to answer a question I hear a lot. Do conventional farmers use environmentally friendly farming practices?
Many people equate “environmentally sustainable” with “organic.” I’m sure this is largely true, but organic is more about how you grow the plants than how you take care of the land.
But I’d rather not get out the boxing gloves with organic. Instead I want to answer the question; what do conventional farmers do to take care of the land?
Actually, they do a lot.
Here’s a photo I snapped of Daddy’s tractor planting corn. You can see the green of our cover crop, which, sadly, was supposed to be wheat. And while the failure of our second wheat crop is disappointing, the nice thing here is that you can see the fresh marks of the corn planter clearly in the green.
The red arrow shows the marks from where the planter has just put seeds. The yellow arrow shows the odd shape of untouched wheat grass between the planter rows.
Why in the world would we do that?
Well, it’s environmentally friendly. Our land is hilly, so to keep soil from washing into streams we use terraces to keep the soil where it belongs. Terraces are an awkward shape and they cut an otherwise rectangular field into weird shapes as well. Farmers have to plant and harvest on one side of the terrace at a time. We start planting by tracing the outline of the field (end rows) and then we trace both sides of the terraces. Finally we finish planting by filling in those blank spaces the yellow arrow points out.
The use of technology is also a major part of being a good steward. The GPS monitor shows us exactly where the tractor has planted and what little triangle somewhere as been forgotten. The planter also uses a pretty impressive system that shuts off each row individually as it drives over ground that has already been planted. That saves us lots of seed, as well as confusion when it’s time to harvest double planted ground.
Planting with terraces is a pain. However, protecting streams and our water supply is important to us (we drink water too) and it’s beneficial because soil that washes away is our best top soil. Those are two big reasons you’ll find conventional farmers practicing soil conservation!
Here are other posts that describe why it’s always Earth Day on a farm.
1.) Farming Ugly! Cover crops help prevent soil erosion, control weeds naturally, and enrich soil.
3.) Another farmer planting hay on terraces and waterways.
If you’re a farmer, what other practices do you use? If you’re not, what questions do you have?