Ad blitz touts farmers’ credentials but some not soldMITCHELL, S.D. - A recent ad campaign touted South Dakota farmers as “the true environmentalists,” but an environmental group says farmers still have some room for improvement.
By: Austin Kaus, The Daily Republic, Worthington Daily Globe
MITCHELL, S.D. - A recent ad campaign touted South Dakota farmers as “the true environmentalists,” but an environmental group says farmers still have some room for improvement.
“The data suggests that some farmers are doing a really fabulous job, but the majority of farmers have a fair piece to go to be able to call themselves the first environmentalists,” said Craig Cox, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group. “There are really major outstanding conservation and environmental problems that we have not solved yet related to agricultural production.”
The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit group with a goal of bringing about federal policies that place a stronger investment in conservation and sustainable development. The group, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has offices in California and Iowa.
The “true environmentalists” ad campaign included TV commercials, print ads, billboards and a video posted on YouTube. The campaign was launched by the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council.
The video features five South Dakota corn producers discussing the importance of land maintenance and states that producers “protect our environment year-round through their everyday activities.”
A Corn Utilization Council executive said the farming industry’s ability to increase efficiency while decreasing environmental impacts is a clear measure of its sustainability.
“Today, it takes about 40 percent less land and energy to produce a bushel of corn than it did 20 years ago,” said Lisa Richardson, executive director of the council.
Richardson, along with the video, claimed that no-till farming is also helping to increase organic-matter levels in the soil.
Cox said he’ll be more apt to refer to farmers as environmentalists when they become better stewards of the land, a process that he said should include adherence to the federal Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation Compliance provisions, which theoretically would reduce erosion.
Originally established by Congress in the 1985 farm bill, the provisions were designed to discourage agricultural production on converted wetlands or highly erodible land by removing certain incentives. Cox said the provisions are not being fully enforced.
The provisions were amended in 1990, 1996 and 2002. Cox said studies show erosion decreased from 1985 to 1997, but no progress has been made since.
“Since 1997, erosion has either gotten worse or gotten no better, so we made some good progress for a while, but we haven’t done anything to improve the situation,” Cox said.
Both Cox and Richardson agree that no-till farming is a good idea, and that organic matter in the soil is increasing because of the process.
But while Cox sees plenty of work left to be done, Richardson said she’s taking pride in the accomplishments that producers continue to make, including the ability to produce higher yields and use less pesticide because of genetically modified crops.
“They continue to become more efficient,” Richardson said. “Farmers were green before green was cool.”
Cox believes the “true environmentalists” campaign came as a result of increased public scrutiny of the corn industry.
“I think corn growers have become very aware that the public is asking very significant and very legitimate questions about why they should be asked to continue the high level of support for farm subsidies,” Cox said. “Taxpayers really ought to expect a significant level of conservation of soil and water in return for their ongoing support of agriculture in the United States.”
But in Richardson’s mind, no one is more conscious of land management than the farmer who uses the land to raise crops.
“Producers understand the importance of their land and protecting it for the next generation,” Richardson said. “There’s nothing more important than that land to that producer.”