I recently read an article about the interconnection of agriculture with the natural environment. The fundamental purpose of farming is to use natural systems to convert sunlight into products useful to humans.
Agriculture needs a healthy ecosystem in order to be productive and efficient. Anything that degrades or depletes the ecosystem — the soil, water and biological organisms — will reduce the productivity. Agriculture does present risks to the environment, but conscientious management practices can work to protect and improve the systems that feed us.
Like any man-made activity, agriculture does indeed have effects on the environment; some good, some bad. There may be some disagreement about how our food should be grown, but one thing we should all be able to agree on is that eating is not optional.
In 1935, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), formally the Soil Conservation Service, was the beginning of the federal commitment 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.
Following this time, farming techniques such as strip cropping, terracing, crop rotation, contour plowing and cover crops were advocated and farmers were paid to practice soil-conserving farming techniques.
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 farmer’s 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. NRCS experts work with local farmers and landowners to conserve natural resources in smart, efficient and sustainable ways to create and maintain healthy ecosystems.