Ask a farmer who works and lives in your community! You can also get answers to your questions below.
Q: What are farmers doing to protect the environment?
A: A lot. The conservation practices used by crop and livestock farmers have drastically reduced soil erosion and kept nutrients out of our lakes and streams. Soil erosion in the U.S. has dropped by over 40 percent over the last 20 years, and seven major conservation practices used on Iowa farms (terraces, grassed waterways, contour farming, contour strip-cropping, no-till, mulch-till and CRP) are estimated to remove up to 38 percent of total nitrogen and 58 percent of the phosphorus that otherwise would be present in our water.
Iowa’s crop farmers also lead the nation in acres devoted to grassy buffer strips in and around their fields, which reduce soil and nutrient runoff. They also rank 8th in the nation in restoring farmland acres to wetlands, through the Wetland Reserve Program. Wetlands supply a life-sustaining habitat for hundreds of species, buffer towns and cities from floods and storm surges and help reduce erosion.
Modern barns help livestock farmers do their part to protect the environment. Livestock manure is used as a valuable, organic fertilizer for crops. The vast majority of Iowa hog farmers store manure in pits, which prevents possible run-off as a result of rainfall. The more traditional feedlot farms of long ago were more susceptible to runoff during a heavy rainfall.
Responsible farmers understand the importance of protecting our environment because they raise their families on the land. Their children drink the same water and breathe the same air as the rest of us. They also understand that we all live in a watershed and that protecting water quality is everyone’s responsibility.
Sources: Field to Market, The Keystone Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Iowa NRCS (US Department of Agriculture
Q: Why is it necessary to improve upon past and current farming practices?
A: In order to meet the food, fiber and energy needs of a growing world – while protecting the environment – farmers will need to continue to embrace responsible technology and innovation. According to the United Nations, there are over 1 billion hungry people in world right now, and farmers will have to produce 70 percent more food for an additional 2.3 billion people by 2050. While feeding all of those people will be a challenge, farmers are moving in the right direction. Thanks to better technology and generations of experience, today’s American farmer produces enough food in a year to feed 155 people, compared to just 46 in 1960.
Sources: American Farm Bureau, United Nations
Q: How do farmers care for their animals?
A: Farming isn’t just a job; it’s a family-based lifestyle. Farmers treat their animals with care and respect because it’s the right thing to do; their families expect nothing less. Today’s livestock farmers are investing more than ever before in preventative care for their animals, following the recommendations of their veterinarians. Many farmers choose to raise their animals in modern barns, which protect them from predators, disease, extreme climates and each other. These barns are warm, well-lit, and scientifically designed for the specific needs of the animal.
Q: How do farmers contribute to their communities?
A: Crop and livestock farmers are valuable members of their communities. They’re active in their local schools, churches, and civic groups. They also breathe life into rural communities by sending their children to local schools and providing a customer base for local businesses.
One in six Iowans is directly or indirectly employed by agriculture according to a 2009 economic contribution analysis by Iowa State University.
Q: How are farmers playing a role in our energy future?
A: Iowa is a leader in renewable energy production, and farmers play a critical role in the state’s production. Iowa leads the nation in ethanol production and is second in wind energy.
Q: How safe and affordable is the food produced in the U.S.?
A: The United States has the safest and most affordable food in the world. Modern livestock barns have strict biosecurity (i.e. cleanliness/disease control) practices, which ensure a safer environment for animals and safer food for consumers. According to a World Health Organization official, modern farm practices – including the use of confinement barns – minimize disease outbreaks and the spread of diseases from one farm to another. Our safe food is also the most affordable in the world thanks to the American farmer. U.S. consumers spend just 10 percent of their disposable income on food each year, while those in other countries spend much more.
Sources: American Farm Bureau, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Q: Do we still have family farms?
A: Today, 98 percent of all farms in the U.S. are family farms (owned by individuals, family partnerships or family corporations), and the vast majority U.S. agricultural products sold are produced on those farms. Farming today may look different than it did in years past, but family farmers’ commitment to animal care, environmental protection and wholesome food remains the same.
The last Census of Agriculture showed that the number of farms in Iowa is growing, and those farms (and their operators) are becoming more diverse. For example, the number of female farmers (principal operators) in Iowa rose by 36 percent since the last census.
Source: 2007 Census of Agriculture
Q: What percentage of the population farms?
A: Less than two percent of the U.S. population farms and less than 5 percent of the Iowa population farms. Those farmers are charged with feeding their communities, our country and our world.
Source: 2007 Census of Agriculture
Q: In which commodity areas does Iowa rank first nationally?
A: Iowa ranks first in national corn, soybean, hog, egg and ethanol production. Iowa also ranks first in the nation in number of farmers markets per capita and second in the nation in wind energy produced.
Sources: 2009 Iowa Agricultural Statistics booklet, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship
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