By Kansas Farm Bureau Columnist John Schlageck
Some people have the mistaken idea that farmers and ranchers are harming our environment. You hear it everywhere: at the coffee shop, church, public forums, even in the grocery store where people buy the food farmers and ranchers produce for us to eat.
Children arrive home from school and tell parents about “harmful” practices farmers use. It’s easy to understand why folks think the way they do about today’s agriculture.
Few businesses are as open to public scrutiny as a farm or ranch in the United States but the only picture many have of agriculture is what they read in newspapers or see on television. Even fewer people have set foot on a modern farm.
The fondest wish of most farmers and ranchers is to pass their land on to their children. They work years to leave a legacy of good land stewardship. Most farmers learned about conservation and respect for the land from their parents.
Today’s farmer and ranchers are doing their part to protect and improve the environment. They use such practices as early planting, pest control, good soil fertility conservation tillage and many other innovations that help grow more food while protecting the land, water and air.
Farmers adjust practices to meet individual cropping conditions. Such practices can vary from farm to farm – even from field to field.
As in any other business, farmers and ranchers must manage their operations on a timely basis and use all the technology available to improve quality and productivity. If they don’t they will not be able to stay in business for long.
Today’s farmer has drastically cut chemical use during the last couple of decades. Many no longer apply chemicals before planting. Instead, as the crop matures, farmers gauge potential weed growth and apply herbicides only if needed.
Farmers handle chemicals with care and according to instructions on the label. They realize they can be toxic or harmful to people and the environment, and they are the first to come in contact with them.
From planting through harvest, farmers battle weather, weeds, insects and disease. Efficiency is their best defense against unstable world markets, political barriers and fringe groups who may attack their farming methods.
Yes, farmers and ranchers must live in the environment they create. They know all too well the importance of keeping the ground water clean. More often than not, farmers drink from wells on their land. They understand that their family drinks from the water they pump from the ground every day.
Farmers and ranchers can and will do more to improve their environment. They can continue to rely less on herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers. Agricultural producers can also conserve more water, plug abandoned wells, monitor grassland grazing and continue to implement environmentally sound techniques that will ensure preservation of the land.
Production agriculture works, and will continue to work because it is flexible enough to accept and adapt to change. No agricultural system – or any other system for that matter, is perfect. Farmers and ranchers will continue to search for better ways to farm and ranch through research and education.
In the meantime, farmers and ranchers will continue to take their stewardship seriously. They’ve devoted their lives to safeguarding their farms and families, while providing us with the safest food in the world.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.