I don’t know about you, but there are times lately when I cringe whenever our congressional members and state legislators, for one reason or another, attract or seek out the attention of the national spotlight.
I understand the popular media many times presents things out of context just for the sake of a story, but surely our elected representatives could put more thought into their public declarations, at least enough so that the folks back home won’t be embarrassed or sorry they ever cast a vote in the first place.
On the other hand, I’m proud to say I feel no such reservations whenever our farmers speak publicly on behalf of agriculture. In the Southeast, we have some of the most thoughtful and intelligent producers in the world, and they’re willing to openly share their views and expertise in a way that reflects well on the entire agricultural community.
A case in point is Larkin Martin, a seventh generation farmer who has been managing her family’s north Alabama farming operation since 1990. Martin recently was asked to participate in The Farm Foundation Forum in Washington, D.C., examining the role of agriculture and forestry in sustainable production and ecosystems.
Responding to The Farm Foundation’s recent report, “Developing a New Vision for United States Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation,” Martin said the report acknowledges the need for the intensification of production on existing lands. “If the numbers of people grow and the acres in production do not, then more has to be produced in the same area. Finding ways to do that well, with minimal inputs and minimal environmental degradation is the key,” she said.
Martin says that on her farm, there have been profound technology-driven changes since 1990. “There are three big ones, beginning with precision farming and the opportunity to use computers and GIS systems to put things very specifically in places in our fields based on the needs that we identify versus broadcast applications. That has reduced our fertilizer inputs in a significant way. It’s more work, it’s very technical, it’s harder for the employees to understand, and there’s a new skill level required, but it’s a big improvement.”
Another huge improvement for her farm has been GMO seeds, says Martin. “It has allowed us to be much more environmentally friendly in the production of our crops, including corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat. It has helped us to become better stewards.”
Prior to the availability of Bt seeds, she says, they were spraying broad-spectrum pesticides that sterilized fields and killed everything in sight. “With Bt, we went from five to seven sprays per season in the summer on cotton to none. Our beneficial insect numbers ballooned, and there’s a much more diverse and natural system as you walk through our fields. I’m an advocate of GMO’s, from a conservation and environmental point of view. Reducing input costs is good management.”
The other GMO trait has been glyphosate tolerance. “Before this seed became available, we had to plow to control weeds and use soil-active herbicides. We farm highly erodible land, so every time we plowed we had erosion problems. With glyphosate tolerance, we’re able to farm and not plow. Now fields are fallow in the winter, and all sorts of natural organisms and plants are occurring. Our soils are much healthier over time because of the buildup of organic matter and earthworms. We’re able to engage in row-crop agriculture without tillage.”
Communication and data management also are changing the face of farming, says Martin.
“I’m planning on buying all new phones this year for our farm and our managers because there are so many new apps and opportunities for even the guys running the tractors to do things in terms of communication. Communication and data management on-farm is about to explode, and technology is going to be a key moving forward.”
Martin also voiced her optimism about the future of U.S. agriculture. “Because of the health of the farm economy, commodity crops have enjoyed a period of relatively good prices. In previous years, whenever I attended a farm meeting, it was a group of older-than-me men and me. Now, there are some of those older men, me and a room full of 20-something sons and daughters who are coming back to the farm. It’s an exciting thing, and it has created a strong economic sector for the first time in 30 years. Going forward, I see these young people bringing an attitude and awareness along with a technical knowledge that other generations have never had and probably won’t acquire in our lifetimes. It’s an exciting time.”
To see the full report, “Developing a New Vision for United States Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation,” go to http://www.farmfoundation.org/webcontent/Solutions-From-the-Land-1856.aspx.