Sustainability, a decade or so back, put farmers in a watchful mood, wondering what new regulation was about to create more paperwork, more stress and less efficiency for their operations.
The irony in that skepticism was and remains that farmers already employed most of the practices necessary to satisfy reasonable conservation initiatives.
They also understood, better than anyone else, that sustainability without assuring survivability of the farm was, well, un-sustainable. Profit, they argued, had to be built into the equation to ensure someone remained on the land to continue the conservation practices necessary to produce safe, affordable food and fiber and to offer a means of making a living.
Things have changed. Farmers still deal with more red tape and bureaucracy than is probably necessary, but sustainability has become a tag they can display to make consumers aware that agriculture depends on sound resource conservation to remain viable.
I’ve talked to dozens of farmers in the last few years who, instead of shying away from the term sustainability, have begun to embrace it. They own it. They promote conservation agriculture as part of what they do to assure ample food, safe to eat, at reasonable prices.
I talk to more and more farmers who employ new and time-tested practices to conserve water, reduce runoff and to prevent nutrients, silt and other crop protection materials leaving their fields. And most find that these techniques not only conserve resources but also improve efficiency.
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