April 14, 2013

Farming in the basin

Concerns about agricultural impacts on the environment have been a hot topic lately both here and across the lake.

Like any human activity, agriculture does indeed have effects on the environment; some good, some bad. With modern farms getting bigger, there are both concerns and opportunities to be addressed with respect to environmental impacts.

Over the next few decades, farmers will need to learn to produce more food while at the same time reducing the impact of their farming practices. And with the increased consumer interest in agricultural practices and how food is produced, farmers faces many challenges.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), formally the Soil Conservation Service, is the federal agency committed to conserving natural resources on private lands. During the 1930s, poor agricultural practices and years of drought led to the infamous Dust Bowl period. Hundreds of millions of tons of topsoil were blown from the southern Plains states.

Since then, farming techniques such as strip cropping, terracing, crop rotation, contour plowing and cover crops were advocated and farmers were incentivized to practice soil-conserving farming techniques. Later on, local soil and water conservation districts were formed to serve farmers, landowners and local governments.

Today, there are many programs available to help farms reduce their environmental impact.

With the help of these agencies, farmers today are doing more than ever to adapt practices that protect the environment and keep our streams and rivers clean. Many of the government programs that farmers benefit from today involve setting aside erodible lands, fencing off streams from livestock and fostering habitat for wildlife. These programs help us all by creating more green space and buffers between cropland and water sources.

One beneficial conservation practice that has been long known about but slow to gain acceptance in the North Country is the growing of cover crops following annual crops such as corn. This year, however, there seems to be increasing interest in their use.

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