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 are using on the land. 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 today. While farming and ranching practices occur in the open where anyone can see, 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 farmers and ranchers are doing their part to protect and improve the environment. They use agricultural practices including early planting, pest control, good soil fertility, conservation tillage and many other innovations that help grow more food while protecting the environment.
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 cut chemical usage by approximately 40 percent in many cases during the last couple of decades. Many no longer apply chemicals before planting. Instead, as the crop matures, farmers gauge potential weed pressure and apply herbicides only if needed.
Throughout the growing season, farmers do their best to provide nutritious food. From planting through harvest, they battle weather, weeds, insects and disease. Efficiency is their best defense against change including unstable world markets, political barriers and fringe groups who may attack their farming methods yet know little about this vital profession.
Ted and Lisa Guetterman own and operate a 1,100-acre row crop farm in Miami and Johnson counties. Ted represents the fourth-generation to farm and care for the land in far eastern Kansas. He and Lisa have four sons. One has returned to the farm, and the others continue to learn about the farm and conservation as they grow.
The family’s farm includes amylose and waxy corn, soybeans and soft winter wheat. Ted also feeds approximately 400 head of steers each year. Throughout the past 35 years Ted’s family integrated new practices, converting to drills, planters and sprayers equipped with GPS to become more efficient and 100 percent no-till.
Ted and Lisa identified soil erosion as a major concern in all their fields so the family-built miles of terraces and waterways. Ted also assists his landlords and other farmers in the construction of similar conservation practices.
Cropland isn’t the only focus for conservation for the Guettermans. Their livestock pens are designed so all runoff is directed to the grass filtering strips. The use of cover crops on the farm improves soil health, water infiltration and reduces erosion, all while providing feed for the cattle to graze.
The couple is passionate about taking part in programs that will benefit the land. They have enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Carbon Sequestering and the Conservation Stewardship Program. The Guettermans were honored as the Natural Resources award winners at the recent Kansas Farm Bureau annual meeting.
Yes, farmers and ranchers like the Guettermans and their counterparts across Kansas must live in the environment they create. They 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.
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, he writes for Kansas Farm Bureau.