Guest columnist: Farmers eager to start new dialogue with consumers
November 02, 2011 by USFRA
By Bart Schott
Farmers and ranchers do a great job feeding America and the world, but we haven’t done a very good job answering the questions that Americans have about how we grow and raise our food. Questions about the environment, animal treatment and providing choices that are healthy and affordable for everyone could be better answered.
We’d like to change that.
Through a new organization, the United States Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, I am joining with food producers all across America in launching a national dialogue. We are inviting everyone to the table — cooks and consumers, vegans and omnivores, nutritionists and environmentalists, locavores and animal rights activists — for an honest and robust exchange of opinions.
The future of farming affects everyone. American agriculture puts a billion meals on the table every day in this country, season in and season out, come rain or shine, drought or flood, hurricane or tornado.
We’re responsible for feeding a growing population at a time when farmland is disappearing. We’ve had to work harder and smarter, resulting in some advances that many people don’t know about.
As a family farmer, I am proud to raise corn, soybeans and wheat on 4,500 acres in Kulm, N.D. My grandfather and my father raised corn here before me, and my sons are now the fourth generation to work this land.
I’m also president of the National Corn Growers Association. That position isn’t nearly as powerful or glamorous as you might imagine, but it is a great honor and responsibility. I represent 35,000 dues-paying corn farmers all across the United States and the interests of more than 300,000 farmers who contribute through check-off programs in their states.
For family farmers like us, stewardship of the land is a value we live by. Farmers have a very direct relationship with the land. If the land is suffering, we’re suffering. If the land is healthy and productive, we have something to pass on to our children.
But the advances we’ve made in environmental stewardship are not known by most.
Around 35 percent of American cropland already is cultivated in a more ecologically friendly approach, called “no-till” according to research published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, allowing farmers to plant new crops over old ones, without breaking up and turning the soil — and helping to keep critical nutrients and water within it. The “no-till” practice helped reduce soil erosion by 30 percent from 1982 to 1997.
Other improvements include: More productive seeds — specifically tailored to each region’s climate, soil conditions and pest environment — which avoid proportionally increasing the use of agricultural chemicals.
Yield-per-acre for corn, primarily used as animal feed, has tripled in my lifetime at my farm. Twenty-five years ago, 60 bushels an acre was a terrific crop. Now we’re in the 140-160 bushel range, and some growers are getting 300 bushels per acre.
In the last five years, GPS technology has revolutionized planting, irrigating and spraying. Different parts of a field have different requirements. GPS-controlled planters and sprayers automatically apply exactly what’s needed, reducing waste of seed, water, fertilizer and pesticides.
The tough issues about how we feed Americans and the world don’t have black and white solutions. The better informed we are, the better we’ll be able to work together to meet the food challenges of the future.
Beginning with a national town hall last month, the Food Dialogues program will involve public forums, local and national events and an ongoing discussion on our website www.fooddialogues.com.
To learn more, attend our forums in person or on the web, and join our Twitter feed or Facebook page to learn of events in your area.
Come meet a farmer or a rancher. We’re looking forward to meeting you.