By Maria Beatriz Pilu Giraudo: Santa Fe, Argentina
My father with a group of farmers worried about soils in Argentina stopped centuries of unintentional agricultural degradation by changing the way they farmed the land of their fathers.
They noticed that their lands suffered from a slow-motion assault. The violence of tillage combined with the steady barrage of wind and water was ruining the soil. They had to find a balance—or else they’d find themselves on a path to permanent degradation.
So they brought no-till technology.
Rather than tear up the earth by turning it over constantly, they made changes in their agronomic practices that would protect it instead. Their efforts allowed the ground to retain moisture, build up nutrients, and improve biodiversity. Best of all, these new methods helped them beat the problem of soil erosion. It went from a major threat to a minor problem that we now know how to manage.
Their pioneering move saved agriculture in our region. It was a revolution, not only technological, also organizational and institutional, but mostly cultural.
Today, after decades of continuous innovation, my family grows soybeans, corn, wheat, barley, and sorghum on nearly 10,000 acres. We also raise cattle and we’re even moving into the sheep business. This is an initiative of my sons, the 6th generation. We’ve cut soil erosion by 90 percent. We’ve also lowered our costs and reduced our greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, we’ve boosted our productivity, keeping our fertile soils as the best contribution for food security.
Argentina, with 90% adoption of no-till farming and advancing with good agronomic practices, is as healthy as ever, serving as a breadbasket for our nation and the world.
Beneath it all is a philosophy of “ecoprogress”: the concept that ecological benefits and economic progress can advance together. We’ve learned that dedicating ourselves to sustainable agriculture can help us grow more food than ever before.
The responsibility of caring about production inspired me to become not just a farmer who innovates but also an advocate for agriculture on a changing planet. Through the example of this commitment, as well as my education, I learned about the power of collaborative intelligence—and especially the notion that nobody owns an idea. We learn from our mistakes as well as our successes. Sharing what we know can make everybody better.
So we must tell our stories, not just among fellow farmers but also to the wider world of citizens, scientists, and policymakers.
In Argentina, we have an excellent tale to tell about overcoming the problem of soil erosion with creative thinking and technology – with generosity and openness.
I’m honored and privileged that the Global Farmer Network has chosen to recognize our experience with its Dean Kleckner Award. I never had the chance to meet Dean, but he is a model of strength, conviction, and dedication—and I hope that as the recipient of a prize that bears his name, I can exhibit some of these qualities.
Every day, around the world scientists and policy makers have big meetings with a lot of “very important people” who are discussing how farmers should farm and deciding policies without hearing the real situation from the farmers who are responsible for food and environmental security. As farmers, we MUST be at the policy discussion tables worldwide.
I plan to use this award as an opportunity to describe what I’ve seen and what I’ve learned, so that all farmers can become sustainable producers of food and others understand our ways and the reasons behind them.
Today, no-till farming is a commonly accepted technique. We continue to refine its practice but we don’t face active opposition from special-interest groups.
Looking ahead, however, I see many challenges and controversies as we strive for global food security.
Consider the case of GMOs. We adopted them on our farm in 1996, as part of our general strategy to protect the soil and increase production with modern agricultural tools. We saw the benefits right away. After two decades, we know how much good they’ve done. They help us defeat weeds, pests, and disease. As with so many things, they require responsible regulation—but they also deliver enormous value, including some that aren’t obvious to people who don’t raise crops for a living.
Unfortunately, these safe and healthy foods have sparked resistance. Much of it comes from a lack of knowledge about what they are and why they’re useful.
This is my challenge: To convince farmers around the world to be involved in this mission for the common good of the world’s population. As farmers, we must speak up. We have an obligation to describe what this technology is, how we use it, and why it helps farmers, consumers, and the environment.
And that’s exactly what I intend to do: Share our story from Argentina, in the hope that it will hold lessons for everyone who hears it and, at the end of the day, will have all improved together.
Maria Beatriz Pilu Giraudo is a fifth-generation farmer, who with her family, grow soy, wheat, barley, corn, sorghum and livestock in central Argentina. Maria is a member of the Global Farmer Network and has been recognized as the 2016 recipient of the Kleckner Award.