The list of challenges facing agriculture is substantial. Climate change has increased the occurrence of extreme weather. Declining public connection to agriculture has contributed to misunderstandings about how food is grown and raised. Economic shifts have put the financial health of operations of all sizes in jeopardy. Yet you continue to adapt to ensure you are managing your resources, which includes finances, land and water. Here are four ways you can prioritize conservation agriculture in the months ahead to create the possibility for greater profitability, better soil and water, and improved relationships with your landowners. —Carson Poole
Build Resilience Through Conservation
For Jay Hardwick, operating a farm business with a long view means making conservation agriculture a guiding tenet. Hardwick manages more than 12,000 acres of cropland, wetlands and timberland in Tensas Parish, La., which includes a local population of black bears.
“Sustainability is not just a measuring system through Fieldprint Calculator, but it becomes a foundation for ownership, management and succession for the next generation,” says Hardwick, referring to the Field to Market program that helps farmers measure resource stewardship.
But, he stresses, such conservation activities are about more than immediate outcomes. “Our opinion is the best hands for the future of our farm is our family. That has to be embedded in the concept of the land,” he says.
Use Technology to Save Time and Energy
Mary Kraft, a fourth-generation dairy farmer and owner and operator of Badger Creek Farm and Quail Ridge Dairy in Fort Morgan, Colo., has capitalized on efficiencies made possible through technology.
“All of our cows are Bluetoothed,” Kraft says. “Every eight hours, we get a temperature on the cow. I know how much milk she made last time, what time she was in there, all kinds of things.”
They also apply manure from the dairy on fields using GPS to place nutrients at the right rate, place and time and to avoid overlap.
“We’ve been able to decrease the number of trips we need to take through the fields,” Kraft explains. “Using all of this technology has made it easier for our animals to function and for all of us to function in our dairy operation
Find and Capture Resource Efficiencies
Because of a prolonged water shortage in Southern California, Julien Gervreau, director of sustainability for Jackson Family Wines, has to think strategically about conservation practices. Advances in water monitoring, more precise irrigation timing and conservation agriculture practices has helped the vineyards manage the crisis head on, Gervreau notes.
In 2017, a grant allowed Jackson Family Wines to study conservation practices such as using compost and no-till methods in vine rows.
Implementing these practices not only has “challenged age-old assumptions about how we farm,” Gervreau says, but also has improved their bottom line. The practices have increased fruit quality and reduced their per-unit costs to produce wine.
Communicate Stewardship to Consumers
Jan Archer, a North Carolina hog farmer and past president of the National Pork Board, stresses communicating your role as a steward is necessary. The purpose of outside engagement is not only to educate but also to communicate to consumers that farmers are a vital part of the land’s future. It’s about “sharing our story, letting people see what we do and how seriously we take what we do,” Archer says.
Hardwick echoes Archer’s sentiments: “One of the biggest challenges we have is communicating to greater society. We can’t just be private landowners and ignore what society might find important.”
That means collaborating with new stakeholders and problem-solving outside of producer groups is time well spent.
Trust in Food™ is a division of Farm Journal that helps farmers, ranchers and growers increase profitability and resiliency with conservation agriculture. It also engages consumers with storytelling about farming and food. www.TrustInFood.com