My office window in Washington looks out on a construction site right now. If you come visit, you’ll see mounds of dirt, huge concrete poles, scaffolding and a small army of front-loaders and cranes. Today, it looks like my grandsons’ dream backyard, and when it’s all done, it will be the city’s newest monument to a great leader: a memorial for President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
It is good and right that we honor the great men and women who devoted their lives to serving this country. But not all heroes get their picture in a history book or even the local paper. I’d bet we each know at least one “everyday” hero who is making his or her community a better place. Every year on Earth Day, I can’t help but think about how the American farmer is that kind of hero. Farmers and ranchers aren’t drawn to the spotlight, and we aren’t good at singing our own praises either. But consumers need to know how much the folks who grow and raise their food are doing to protect our planet.
1. Farmers are conserving resources and protecting the soil.
As the population booms, farmers and ranchers face higher production demands than ever before. Thanks to advances in technology, from smarter farm equipment to better seeds, U.S. agricultural output has nearly tripled in the last 60 years. What’s more, that increase has come with fewer resources and less land available for production. For farmers, land is our most precious asset, and we are committed to using modern farming practices that preserve the soil and prevent erosion. Sustainability practices like no-till, conservation tillage, and planting cover crops are taking over as common practice all over farm country. Since 2012, farmers have increased these soil conservation efforts by 34 million acres.
2. Farmers are growing and using clean, renewable energy.
Renewable fuel is a real homegrown American success story. With renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel, we have decreased our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and reduced pollution. Farmers are doing our part to protect our fuel supply, strengthen our national security and protect the environment: the number of farms producing renewable energy increased 132 percent from 2012 to 2017. Not only are we growing more renewable fuel, we are also investing in using renewable, clean energy on our farms with geothermal heating, solar panels, windmills, hydro systems and methane digesters. Farm use of solar energy alone has more than doubled in the last five years.
3. Farmers are reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
America’s farmers and ranchers are leading the ag world with our sustainability efforts. We can see this clearly when we look at greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. agriculture’s share of our country’s GHGs is just 9 percent. When you single out livestock, which is often the subject of unfair environmental attacks, that sector’s share is less than 3 percent. And we keep improving! Thanks to farmers’ conservation work and advances in productivity, we are continuing to see emissions per unit of agricultural output trending down across all sectors of the farm economy.
These numbers are just a slice of the much bigger story of sustainability across America’s farm and ranch land. It’s a story that too often gets overlooked by folks who simply don’t understand modern farming, the hard work and dedication it takes, or the farmer’s tendency toward problem-solving and commitment to being a good steward.
As President Eisenhower once said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field.” I can’t say what President Eisenhower, the grandson of a Kansas farmer himself, would think of his new memorial. But as this farmer looks across the street, I’m grateful for another reminder of how blessed we’ve been with leaders who value and respect the humble, yet fruitful work of millions of unsung heroes.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.