Flooding shows land is important, valuable to all

Ana Schweer

The other day I struck up a conversation with my father, Randy Schweer, a South Dakota dairy farmer, about just how valuable the land the Lord has given us is. As we spoke, my father brought up a news story from May of this year.

According to him, the report said flooding of towns, homes, and farmland in parts of Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas expanded due to the explosion of a levee holding back Mississippi waters.

I found the article on Boston.com and the way I understand it is that the town of Cairo, Ill., would have been flooded if the levee was not blown.  Since the levee was also weakening, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had no choice but to blow up the levee holding the Mississippi in. I found that 130,000 acres of farmland were swamped beyond repair, but the town of Cairo, Ill, was saved.

This event hit me hard because my heart goes out to the people who have lost so much and because I know today’s value of land.  I know that one farmer feeds one hundred and fifty people everyday.  With an increasing world population and shrinking amounts of land to grow and raise food on, our nation has a large task ahead.  According to the American Farmland Trust:

“Farms closest to metropolitan areas (and under the highest risk of development) produce 91 percent of the nation’s fruit, 78 percent of vegetables and 67 percent of our dairy products.  In fact, we need another 13 million acres of fruits and vegetables just for Americans to meet the MINIMUM daily requirement of fruits and vegetables set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That means we are already short on productive farmland–and we’re losing more and more each day!”


The reason I bring these things up is not to bash the decisions made to blow the levee or to grow a city but because I want all of us to realize that taking care of the environment and conserving land is very important.

Growing up on a dairy farm where we raise our own crops to feed our cattle, I learned at a young age that the way we treated the land, it would treat us.  Farm families across the nation rely on land to earn a living, which means we are going to do the very best we can to care for it.

Today’s technology in the agriculture industry is exciting. I know it will make all those involved in agriculture better stewards of the environment.  I will not ignore the fact that not all people in agriculture value the environment as they should, but the majority of agriculturalists do. So how do agriculturalists take care of the environment you ask?

Well to give you the most up to date and trustworthy information, I looked up the True Environmentalist website and found many ways that farmers are protecting soil quality.  These are five of the most important.

Advances in seed science, machinery and precision-farming tools like Global Positioning System (GPS) mapping help farmers grow more with simplified weed control and reduced chemical applications.

I also had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Gregg Carlson, a professor from the Plant Science Department here at SDSU.  He teaches precision agriculture, irrigation, and natural resource management.  Dr. Carlson also pointed out that precision agriculture is what is paving the way for our ability to be better stewards of the land, and is helping us bring back the grass waterways.  He also said that the GPS systems in our equipment are allowing us to be very accurate in the application of nutrients and chemicals. Those in the agriculture industry involved in crop production and land conservation can be “land doctors” in that we can prescriptively put on nutrients only where they are needed.  Just as your doctor may prescribe only what you need to get better, we now do that for the land.

2. Due to new innovative fertilizer methods and frequent soil testing, American corn farmers are producing 70 percent more corn per ounce of fertilizer.

This follows the first way farmers protect soil perfectly because it proves that farmers are becoming more efficient – with land and fertilizer!  (Fertilizers aren’t always a “chemical” either, often its just plain manure from animals.)

3. Conservation tillage (reduced or no-till planting) to conserve soil and water, and reduce soil erosion and fuel usage.

The reduced or no-till planting means that a farmer will not plow up a field at all or very little before he plants his crop. This means that less moisture and organic matter are released from the soil. There are many programs that reward farmers for no-till farming, such as the SD Farmers Union Carbon Credit Program, and many farmers take part in these programs.

4. Reduced tillage and other farm management practices have decreased soil erosion 43 percent in 20 years.

There is the proof again. Not only has soil erosion been decreased but also soil components have been increased. New research completed by Dr. Dave Clay, an SDSU Plant Science professor, found that there have been significant increases in organic matter in the last 25 years of farming in South Dakota. He found this through analyzing soil samples from the last 25 years. This discovery indicates that our current farming systems of corn, soybeans, wheat and forages are actually increasing the quality of our land. This research is going through the publication process now.

5. Planting cover crops and/or moving to longer crop rotations to naturally manage soil fertility, quality, water, weeds and pests — and improve farm habitat for wildlife.

My hope is that after reading about just five of the ways the agriculture industry is caring for the environment you will look at agriculture as a more positive part of our country. According to the American Farmland Trust Information Center:

“The U.S. food and farming system contributes nearly $1 trillion to the national economy— or more than 13 percent of the gross domestic product—and employs 17 percent of the labor force.  With a rapidly increasing world population and expanding global markets, saving American farmland is a prudent investment in world food supply and economic opportunity.”

Remember that farmland is an irreplaceable part of your future. We are all living on the land in some way shape or form. The agriculture industry is doing the very best it can to take care of it.