Agriculture´s environmental success story: Growing more with less
The latest National Resources Inventory (NRI) report, released April 27 by the Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, puts some substantial meat on the bones of an environmental message farmers and ranchers have long conveyed—that they are careful and caring stewards of our nation’s natural resources.
After scanning the massive NRI survey results, another very clear message has emerged: American agriculture is producing more with less. After looking over the NRI and the latest USDA productivity figures, it becomes apparent that the shrinking environmental footprint of food and fiber production in the U.S. is the envy of the world.
The NRI is a compilation of a broad range of 50 years of data related to the environment, U.S. land use and productivity, water consumption and many other factors.
Analysis of the data by American Farm Bureau Federation quantifies how farm and ranch productivity has increased over the past two and a half decades, while at the same time, environmental performance and water quality have been improving. Again, more with less.
Several major points from the survey related to agriculture tell a compelling story:
Today’s farmers produce more food with fewer resources:
While farm and ranch productivity has increased dramatically since 1950, the use of resources (labor, seeds, feed, fertilizer, etc.) required for production has declined markedly. For example, in 2008, farmers used 2 percent fewer inputs while producing 262 percent more food compared to 1950.
We can feed a growing world thanks to the miracle of productivity: America’s farmers and ranchers are doing their part to feed a growing world. Total U.S. crop yield (tons per acre) has increased more than 360 percent since 1950.
America’s dairy cows produce more milk with less feed:
Dairy cow milk production has become more efficient since 1980. The pounds of feed (grain, forage, etc.) a cow needs to consume to produce 100 pounds of milk has decreased by more than 40 percent on average in the last 30 years.
U.S. farmland use for crops is trending down: Since 1982, U.S. land used for crops has declined by 70 million acres. Conservation tillage, a way of farming that reduces erosion (soil loss) on cropland while using less energy, has grown from 17 percent of acreage in 1982 to 63 percent currently.
Soil erosion continues to decline: Careful stewardship by America’s food producers spurred a nearly 50 percent decline in erosion of cropland by wind and water since 1982.
These facts, based on in-the-field science, are worth sharing. Farm and ranch families today are caring for our natural resources while feeding our nation. In fact, they are doing so with greater efficiency than ever before. More with less. Any way you slice it, that makes sense for people and our planet. — Bob Stallman [Bob Stallman, a rice grower and cattle producer from Texas, is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.]