Finding Our ‘Shade of Green’

Retailer in cab

Kermit the Frog was not talking about the environment when he sang his song on Sesame Street, but he could have been. It is not hard for today’s agriculture to use environmentally sound practices. What’s not easy is getting credit for the progress the industry has made in preserving the environment.

The average person today will read or hear almost nothing positive about agriculture and the environment. The level of criticism has increased with the expanding demand for agriculturally based fuel. 

By almost any measure, agriculture today does a better job protecting our natural resources than it ever has done before. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, soil erosion in the U.S. decreased 43% from 1982 to 2003. Per-acre fertilizer rates for major crops have remained constant or declined since the mid-1980s. The Congressional Research Service estimates that agriculture’s use of energy has declined 28% since the 1970s. The National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy estimated that biotechnology use in the U.S. in 2005 reduced pesticide application by almost 70 million pounds and increased crop yields by over 8 billion pounds. All of these results occurred at the same time agriculture production has increased. Certainly there are still issues that need to be addressed, but agriculture has shown a remarkable ability to recognize and respond to an often changing environmental landscape.

Why doesn’t agriculture get credit for the progress it has made in protecting the environment? It is a difficult question to answer. Agriculture likes to measure its ecological footprint with quantifiable terms such as parts per million or pounds per acre. We in the industry look at the dollars spent on new facilities, or worker training, and see the improvements to the environment our efforts bear.

Being “green,” however, often is as much about emotion as it is about science. Sometimes the policies of the green movement seem contrary to good ecological policy. Consider biotechnology: planting genetically modifed (GM) crops allows growers to reduce the amount of pesticides used. Biotech crops have a perfect safety record and yield better than conventional seeds. Higher yields per acre also means more bushels produced per gallon of fuel used, or ton of soil lost to erosion. Yet, even with these significant advantages, most environmental groups have made opposition to GM crops a cornerstone of their organization’s policies.

An Organic Disconnect

Another environmental inconsistency in the green movement is its embracing of organic food production as an alternative for today’s agriculture production system. The organic food industry has done a good job developing a market for its products. Consumers certainly have a right to purchase and consume the kinds of foods they desire, but there is little evidence that organic foods are safer or more nutritious. Organic production requires the returning of animal and plant wastes to the field to maintain the soil’s productivity.  That may be possible when crops are locally produced and consumed, but it is certainly not feasible in a global economy when grain produced in the Midwestern U.S. is eaten by consumers in Southeast Asia.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug probably said it best: “Producing food for 6.2 billion people is not simple. Organic approaches can only feed 4 billion — I don’t see 2 billion volunteers to disappear …”

Even if a growing world population could be fed using organic systems, it would be a disaster for the environment. Lower yields typical of organic farming would require the cultivation of millions of additional, often environmentally sensitive, acres. Soil erosion and energy usage would increase as tillage is used to control weeds instead of herbicides. Higher food prices and the potential of famine would increase the risk of political unrest. Eating organic might make people feel better about their environmental footprint, but it is not a sustainable alternative for today’s world.

The standards of environmental responsibility are being set today, not only by legislation but by public opinion. It is technically legal to grow and use GM crops in Europe, but public opinion has effectively paralyzed the regulatory process necessary to grow and use them. In the U.S., Starbucks has decided not to use milk from cows given additional amounts of the hormone BST to increase production. Dairy farmers have lost important markets even though the Food and Drug Administration states that milk from cows supplemented with BST is “not different” from non-supplemented cows.

It’s clear that agriculture’s view of ecological responsibility is different from many in the mainstream environmental movement. Our industry is on the defensive. Perhaps it is time for agriculture to create, label, and promote its own standards of stewardship, its own “Shade of Green.” 

Agriculture’s “Shade of Green” should be based on science, not emotion. It should be sustainable and recognize that the basic needs of consumers and producers need to be fulfilled to be successful. Many of the procedures agriculture has been using to protect the environment are already well documented. Why not promote these practices and take advantage of them in the marketplace of public opinion?

After all, it’s lots easier being green if YOU get to help decide what “green” means.

Leave a Reply

Management Stories

ManagementMACA 2014: The State Of The Agricultural Industry, And Then Some
October 9, 2014
The trade association’s annual gathering featured speakers from across agriculture and beyond. Read More
StewardshipA Multi-Layered Approach To Water Quality
October 6, 2014
Illinois event highlights research and technology designed to better monitor and improve water quality — and the benefits of cooperative, coordinated effort. Read More
StewardshipMichigan Agriculture Leaders On Toledo Water Ban: We Want To Be Part Of The Conversation
August 8, 2014
Leaders of Michigan agricultural organizations said Thursday that the government should not have a “knee-jerk reaction” based on last weekend’s water ban in Toledo due to fertilizer run-off in Lake Erie. Read More
ManagementRussia Bans U.S. And EU Ag Product Imports In Ukraine Sanctions Battle
August 7, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin has banned the import of agricultural goods from countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia. Read More

Top 100 Articles

CropLife 100CHS: Driving Momentum To Help Farmer-Owners Grow
December 11, 2014
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, must capture new opportunities to Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT, Verdesian Ink Distribution Agreement
December 9, 2014
The agreement grants BRANDT the exclusive right to sell and market Verdesian’s patented Steric chemistry in the Turf and Ornamental and eastern U.S. ag markets under the BRANDT Reaction product line name. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: The Colors Of Custom Application
December 5, 2014
Although many color spray rigs are in the yards of the nation’s top ag retailers, the majority of them still come in only a few shades. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Invests In Meridian Agriculture Distribution
December 4, 2014
Meridian will provide retailers with supplier-branded products and numerous opportunities to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: Entering A New Seed Era
December 4, 2014
The seed category has been re-vitalized during the past few years, and more good news (and varieties) are headed the industry’s way in 2015. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: The Depressed State Of Fertilizer
December 3, 2014
Following downright giddy growth earlier this decade, fertilizer sales have fallen back down to earth the past two years. Read More

Latest News

Seed/BiotechKaren Arthur Joins AgriThority As Seed Treatment Produc…
December 19, 2014
Prior to joining AgriThority, Arthur directed research and development programs, overseeing laboratory and field research, to build the Valent U.S.A. seed treatment portfolio. Read More
EquipmentJohn Deere To Sell Crop Insurance Business
December 19, 2014
Deere & Co. has reached a definitive agreement to sell its crop insurance business, subject to regulatory approval, to Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. of Iowa. Read More
Crop InputsNufarm Fills Regulatory VP Position
December 18, 2014
Nufarm announced today that Rob Schwehr has been promoted to the position of Vice President of Innovation & Regulatory Affairs for Nufarm Americas. Read More
Seed/BiotechReport: China Approves Viptera Corn, U.S. Officials Awa…
December 17, 2014
Chinese authorities have informed some agriculture industry officials the government has approved U.S. imports of a type of genetically modified corn developed by Syngenta. Read More
FertilizerMonty’s Plant Food Brings In New Sales Rep
December 16, 2014
Monty's Plant Food Company has hired Warren Kearns as its newest Sales Representative for the South Carolina area. Read More
EquipmentHagie Wins 2014 CropLife IRON Product Of The Year Award
December 15, 2014
The self-propelled sprayer maker has a hit on its hands with the new STS Series model. Read More
Syngenta
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Sees China Approving Contentious GMO Corn Soon
December 15, 2014
Syngenta will make an announcement when it receives official documentation from China that Agrisure Viptera corn, known as MIR 162, has been cleared for import. Read More
Crop InputsVerdesian Life Sciences Names Vice President Of Communi…
December 15, 2014
Amy Bugg will oversee the execution of all promotional strategies for the corporate brand and the complete product portfolio. Read More
StewardshipFarmers, Retailers Attend 4R Certification 4U Workshop
December 15, 2014
More than 160 farmers and ag retailer attended the “4R Certification 4U” workshop December 12 to learn more about the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship, water quality research in the area and cost-sharing opportunities. Read More
Matt Hopkins10 Best New Agriculture Apps For 2015
December 15, 2014
These new agriculture apps are certain to help ag professionals do their jobs more efficiently in 2015 and beyond. Read More
ManagementARA Learnings, Retail Buying Intentions: Welcome To Cro…
December 12, 2014
This informal video program puts news and events effecting retailers into context, and features Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Herbicide-Tolerant Technology Closer To Commer…
December 12, 2014
The final EIS moves Monsanto one step closer to the introduction of Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton and Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans, paving the way to provide access to dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton. Read More
Seed/BiotechUSDA Issues Final Environmental Impact Statement On Her…
December 12, 2014
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is issuing a final environmental impact statement on varieties of cotton and soybeans that have been genetically engineered for resistance to several herbicides, including the one known as dicamba. Read More
CropLife 100CHS: Driving Momentum To Help Farmer-Owners Grow
December 11, 2014
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, must capture new opportunities to Read More
LegislationARA Applauds CFATS Passage Prior To Holiday Adjournment
December 11, 2014
The streamlined bill provides a four-year authorization of the CFATS program and guidance to DHS on key issues of chemical facility security Read More
Seed/BiotechBayer CropScience’s ILeVO Approved By EPA
December 11, 2014
EPA has approved ILeVO, the only seed treatment that protects the root system against infections caused by the Sudden Death Syndrome fungus and has activity against dangerous nematodes. Read More
Biologicals in Emerging Markets Map.
Crop InputsBiocontrols Could Quadruple By 2025; Will Regulators Pl…
December 11, 2014
The European experience with GMOs offers caution — and a promise — for biologicals. Read More
Crop InputsBASF Donates $75,000 To Feeding America
December 10, 2014
The donation will support Feeding America’s National Produce Program, an initiative that helps with planning, transportation and logistics to ensure fresh produce deliveries to the 200 member food banks around the country. Read More