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By Gene Davidson, State Executive Director, Farm Service Agency
Since its inception in 1970, the Earth Day phenomenon has led to enormous growth in understanding of the consequences we face if we do not take care of our natural resources. It has led to more action to protect our planet’s land, water, air, wildlife, and us as human beings.
Here in America and around the world, environmental concerns are becoming a primary focus. Lawmakers and business leaders, consumers and producers, families and individuals, teachers and students … everyone has a vested interest in preserving the earth, so why not celebrate a day to honor all that we’re doing for our planet at ground level.
When I’ve asked Tennessee farmers and ranchers I know about Earth Day, the humble and honest reply I usually get is: “Every day is Earth Day.” Where asphalt and pavement turns to gravel and dirt, you will find rural men and women rising early, greeting the day and working the earth. The soil. The ground.
Their office space is outdoors in the sun, wind, rain and sometimes snow. They are doing hard work that needs to be done to feed a hungry world. To eat and live it means that someone tills the soil, plants the fields, fertilizes, feeds, prunes, irrigates, picks, packs and ships. Before 1970 especially, some did these things without thought about the consequences their hasty actions might cause. Today things are very different.
We at USDA require farmers and ranchers to develop conservation plans to participate in our programs. Even when commodity prices are high like they have been the last few years, we encourage farmers to renew their participation in the Conservation Reserve Program. We remind them to protect their soil, protect their precious water resources and the air we all breathe.
Other actions also have established lasting benefits for our environment. On many of today’s farms and ranches you might find insects used instead of pesticides to prevent plant destruction. You might see machinery and vehicles designed for reduced emissions or more use of cleaner biofuels. You might spot farmers practicing mitigation measures to reduce particulate matter (dust), and greater dependence on solar and wind energy to provide electricity for their farm homes, barns and sheds.
Whether organic or conventional, the products coming from today’s farms and ranches have been grown and harvested with a greater awareness of the environment. And with the growing concern for climate change, many farmers and ranchers have redoubled their commitment to do no-till planting and other common-sense practices to care for their land.
In America today, widespread bioresearch and development of new production techniques help modern farmers plant, grow and harvest in a sustainable manner that would not have been conceivable in 1970 when the first Earth Day was celebrated. Progress has been made and all of us involved in agriculture should take pride.
Still, there is further to go. The soil and our fresh-water supply need our attention. The world’s population continues to grow so there is constant pressure to produce higher yields and better nutritional value in what we grow. Adequate food and fiber supplies in the future will happen only when we have a healthy earth to supply them.
We have the resilient and resourceful farmers and ranchers here in Tennessee to make it work, to keep the earth healthy. We have the hardest working people at the United States Department of Agriculture to support our farmers and ranchers. So, Earth Day is a good day to celebrate. It’s a good day to value our contributions as farmers and ranchers; a good day to be thankful, too, for each of our planetary resources that make things grow. It’s a good day to pledge — in the face of climate change – that we will continue to care for every part of Tennessee. It’s a great state with great people and a great place to be involved in agriculture at the ground level. Let’s make it last.
For more information about the Earth Day initiative, visit: www.earthday.org.