By: Andrea Rice, Director of Research, Education, & Outreach/Missouri 4R Coordinator
Farmers are continuously seeking improvement to provide food, fuel, and fiber products to an ever-growing world. Future generations of producers and consumers are depending upon today’s farmers to make wise decisions for there to be a successful tomorrow. Farmers and the entire agriculture community are taking challenges on full force to ensure a successful future.
As caretakers of the land and other natural resources, agriculturalists sense the importance of their responsibility to produce more product than ever before, in a more environmentally and economically sustainable way, while becoming more efficient with the use of land, water, and energy.
Great strides have already been made to manage resources wisely. This isn’t a new concept, but it may look different today than it did a few decades ago. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, advances in technology, academia, and the agriculture industry have built upon generations of knowledge to assist the family farm with better management including more data-based insights than ever before.
- Farmers are seeking to partner with industry in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and utilize row crop production to improve the environment.
- For decades, farmers have adjusted fertilizer application rates and times to provide the most effective nutrition for their growing crops in addition to decreasing tillage and increasing soil health to provide meaningful improvement for the environment and their economic stability.
- With an average yield of 168 bushel per acre, U.S. corn farmers produce 33% of the world’s corn on only 10% of the land dedicated to corn production globally.
Farmers are producing more with less as shown in the 2016 indicators in the Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, 2016. Environmental and Socioeconomic Indicators for Measuring Outcomes of On Farm Agricultural Production in the United States (Third Edition).
Sustainability accomplishments between 1980 and 2015 include:
- Decreased the amount of land required to produce a bushel of corn by 41% even when the quantity of corn produced has increased.
- Reduced soil loss per acre by 58% for corn production and 47% for soybean production.
- Improved irrigation efficiencies leading to per bushel declines in irrigation water use of 46% for corn production and 33% for soybean production.
- Improved energy use efficiency per bushel of corn by 41% and decreased energy usage by 35% for soybean production.
- Greenhouse gases for U.S. soybeans have been trending down, with pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent GHG emissions per bushel produced dropping significantly the past 35 years.
- Over the course of the study, greenhouse gas emissions improved by 45%, reduced from 13.6 pounds CO2-equivalent gas per bushel in 1980 to 7.5 pounds per bushel in 2015.
- Reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per bushel of corn by 31%.
- Total soybean production increased substantially, up 120%. Production increased faster than land acreage planted, up 20%, illustrating the role of increasing yields, up 63%.
- Soybean production land use (planted acres/bushel) declined by 40%, further demonstrating improved yields.
Farmers realize the important balancing act they must complete by providing needed food, fuel, and fiber products while protecting the natural resources they use to get the job done. There are many ways farmers are benefitting the environment around them:
- Missouri was #4 nationally in cover crop acres planted in 2018 with over 800,000 acres and projections show 2022 cover crop acres over 2 million in Missouri along. Cover crops increase biodiversity, create wildlife habitats, attract pollinators, decrease soil erosion, and increase soil infiltration, leading to less flooding.
- New seed technology is embraced by the agriculture community. USDA estimates Missouri farmers planted 95% of soybean acres and 93% of corn acres in 2020 with seed enhanced by biotechnology. These crops provide more effective weed control, decrease costs for herbicide application, and provide environmental benefits including an impactful decrease in application of insecticides.
- Several new programs are in place to help farmers quantify carbon sequestration from existing and new practices as well as the development of genetic capabilities in crops to trap carbon more effectively.
Farmers realize they play an important role in a much bigger ecosystem and the agriculture community as a whole is making great strides in soil health and other environmental improvements. Overall, the agriculture community strives to do the right thing and wants to provide the best food, fuel, and fiber products possible for their communities and while remaining economically and environmentally sustainable.
Genetically engineered varieties of corn, upland cotton, and soybeans by State and for the United States, 2000-20 https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/adoption-of-genetically-engineered-crops-in-the-us.aspx
Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, 2016. Environmental and Socioeconomic Indicators for Measuring Outcomes of On Farm Agricultural Production in the United States (Third Edition). ISBN: 978-0-692-81902-9. https://fieldtomarket.org/national-indicators-report-2016/report-downloads/
National Corn Growers Association 2020 Sustainability Report. https://dt176nijwh14e.cloudfront.net/file/383/NCGA%20Sustainability%20Report_final_Digital_62521.pdf
American Soybean Association Sustainability & Conservation. https://soygrowers.com/key-issues-initiatives/key-issues/sustainability/