I enjoy a good story, hearing where folks have come from and what their passions are, learning the history of a place, understanding how innovation is opening new doors on the farm. Stories help us understand our neighbors and our world, and we were all meant to be lifelong learners. That is one of the things I love about farming—how our business and way of life are built around the importance of growth. That commitment to growing and doing better each season is what drives our sustainability on the farm and shapes agriculture’s story of growth.
We live in a world of soundbites, video clips and tweets. Sometimes these snapshots give us a quick scope of what’s happening around the world each day. But the flip side is that we often miss out on the fuller story. A quote or a statistic can be taken out of context, and then misunderstandings spread like wildfire. Sadly, this has too often happened with the story of agriculture’s impact on the environment. One number can’t tell us all we need to know of the amazing work and dedication that has gone into reducing our environmental footprint while we meet the demands of feeding a growing population.
Last week, the EPA released its emissions report for all industries in 2019. U.S. agriculture remains a small slice of the greenhouse gas emissions pie at roughly 10% by economic sector. On its own, that snapshot shows great achievement, especially when we stack our industry up against the rest of the economy and consider how far we have come in just a couple generations. What’s more, when you factor in land management and forestry practices, agriculture boasts net emissions of -2%. But if we dig a little deeper, the story gets better.
For example, U.S. agricultural production has increased significantly over the years to meet demand, but we haven’t increased use of land or other resources. We are producing 143 times more food today than 30 years ago, while the amount of fertilizer and water used for farming has stayed about the same. Not only that, but we are also producing more food using less farmland—30 million acres less than in 1990—as more land has turned to development with our growing urban and suburban populations. Our AFBF economists crunched the numbers, and when you look at population increases, U.S. agriculture’s emissions per capita have decreased by 15%.
We are not kicking back and declaring our sustainability job done, however. Just the opposite. Agriculture’s achievements over the last few decades give us greater confidence that we can continue to be part of climate-smart solutions. That is why Farm Bureau is at the table sharing agriculture’s story and helping shape policy that will promote market-based, voluntary sustainability practices.
Environmental stewardship is central to our calling as farmers and ranchers. We don’t do this work for the headline or the soundbite—and that’s probably why it took us so long to get better at sharing our story. Sustainability on the farm is the work we do to honor the generations who came before us and to empower those who will follow us. One of the first lessons my father taught me in farming was: “If you take care of the land, it will take care of you.” As we take care of the land together, we are taking part in a story that spans generations. It’s a story we can be proud of even as we work together to write the next chapter.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.