Hugh Hammond Bennett, first chief of the Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service once said, “Take care of the land, and the land will take care of you.” The famous quote still rings true today. Farmers and ranchers are truly the original conservationists, as they depend on the land, water and air to make a living, feed and clothe their families and produce an abundance with which we feed and clothe our nation and our world.
Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers have, and will continue to make great strides in conserving all of the natural resources our great state has to offer. Advances in technology have allowed them to harvest more bountiful commodity crops and produce more meat, milk, eggs and produce with less water, less soil erosion and fewer chemical inputs than ever before. All of which leads to affordable choices for consumers and an increased quality of life for all Oklahomans.
Soil erosion is a concern for conservationists and agriculturalists alike. Topsoil contains vital nutrients that are essential for crops to grow and thrive. An active plan to preserve the topsoil is extremely important to the long-term viability of an agricultural operation because topsoil cannot be replaced. Any nutrients that are washed or blown away can no longer be beneficial for future crops. Both traditional and organic farmers must manage erosion and water use; as well as control runoff and replenish the nutrients in the topsoil.
The introduction of genetically modified seeds has been an integral component to traditional producers’ conservation efforts. The stronger, hardier, more drought tolerant and pest resistant seeds have enabled farmers to use less chemical to more effectively control weeds and pests; practice no-till and conservation tillage to preserve top soil and prevent erosion and runoff; conserve water and produce a more abundant crop on fewer acres than ever before.
According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service National Resources Inventory, producers across the United States produced 262 percent more food in 2008 with 2 percent fewer inputs, including labor, seeds, fertilizer and feed than they did in 1950. In contrast, global production input requirements continue to grow because developing countries do not have access to advancing technologies to make production more efficient.
Water is essential to grow the plants that provide food, fiber and fuel for consumers. Farmers and ranchers understand the importance of conserving water, because they know the consequences they face if water is not available. Water is an expensive input for many operations, so water wasted equates to money lost. Especially in Oklahoma, where we have experienced extreme drought and extreme flooding in a matter of months, farmers must be cultivators, understanding exactly how much water a plant needs to grow. Too much water can mean poor production, while not enough can mean crop failure.
Producers have capitalized on new irrigation technology to minimize water use and maximize its effectiveness. Underground irrigation lines, also known as subsurface drip irrigation, are being installed across the state, allowing farmers to use less water and apply it directly to the roots of the plants where it is needed most. Especially in areas where irrigation water is limited, it has the potential to reduce water use and produce a better harvest. Because the water is applied below the surface, the exposed soil remains dry and practically no water is lost due to evaporation or runoff.
Technologies continue to evolve making the business of farming and ranching more efficient while producers continue to educate themselves on new conservation methods. Ultimately, a producers’ land is his legacy. Ensuring his land stays in production is essential to an agriculturalists’ continued success. That does not happen by accident. Success in agriculture is not achieved at the expense of conservation. In fact, good conservation practices enhance agricultural production and enable farmers and ranchers to continue to feed, clothe and fuel a growing population from all economic backgrounds.