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Sustainable farming on Earth Day

Today's ranchers use 33% less land than they did 40 years ago.

“Sustainability” has become the buzz word in today’s society and especially Earth Day, which is on April 22.  The word “sustainable” truly describes farms and ranches that have been in the family for generations.

“Farmers and ranchers welcome the rest of the world joining them for Earth Day,” said Montana Farm Bureau President Hans McPherson.  “It’s important people realize what farmers and ranchers have advocated for many generations; the need to sustain and even improve the environment so ranches can be productive and passed on from generation to generation. Whether it’s managing grazing so there is a continuous source of grass for cattle—and wildlife—or using farming methods that benefit the soil, farmers and ranchers continually look for ways to keep their farms and ranches sustainable.”

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 today.

“In the past, we used conventional tillage but we tried  new ideas like strip farming, but there would still be a lot of dust in the strong wind,” says Montana Farm Bureau District 9 Director Ken Johnson. “However, 15 years ago we went 100-percent no-till as have many farmers in our area, and there isn’t dirt blowing around anymore. Using no-till has has helped us increase our yields and improve our soil. There are some fields that were hard clay and now they have become productive ground.”

Farmers have switched to crop rotation, the practice of growing different crops in succession on the same land. Johnson, who farms with his wife MFBF Vice President Cyndi Johnson, notes that crop rotation is an important part of their mid-size farm near Conrad. “Crop rotation helps with soil health. We have started using pulse crops (peas, lentils) in our rotation as they put nitrogen in the soil and they break the disease cycle of wheat and barley. In addition, we’ve upgraded our machinery to use more of the technological advances farmers can use today, such as Global Positioning Systems. That helps us be more precise when placing any chemical or fertilizer on crops and in the soil, giving the plants exactly what they need.”

The couple expresses dismay at the misinformation about farming and ranching bandied about in the media and by anti-conventional agriculture groups. “They try to show farmers are in business for the short-term and don’t care about the environment, but nothing could be further from the truth. This farm has been in the family for 90 years,” Johnson says. “We’re here for the long haul. We are always trying to improve the place and our land and not run it into the ground. Taking care of the land is in everyone’s best interest Keeping our farm sustainable is what we do.”



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