No, farmers aren't committing 'ecocide'

No, farmers aren't committing 'ecocide'

When times are tough and people are struggling, we tend to look for someone to blame. The op-ed “Link between factory-farmed animals, COVID-19 and preventing the next pandemic” is a recent example; its authors want you to think American agriculture is responsible for creating an environment for pandemics to flourish. 

I’m a third-generation farmer, I call it like it is — and such claims are unhelpful, especially when farmers are struggling to keep food on store shelves. 

America’s farmers and ranchers are working to feed the world and to leave that world a better place — not committing “ecocide,” as some critics claim, by squandering resources or destroying natural habitats. The advances made in just the past 30 years have drastically improved the way food gets from our fields to our homes. Just three decades ago, it would have required 100 million more acres to grow the amount of food being produced today.

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At the same time, farmers have dedicated 140 million acres — 15 percent of all farmland, equal to the landmasses of California and New York combined — to conservation, providing natural habitats and buffers.  That’s far from the “ecocide” that farmers are accused of committing.

Greenhouse gas emissions, one of the most cited factors in addressing climate change, are trending down in American agriculture when evaluated on a per-unit basis.

In all, agriculture represents less than 10 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, far eclipsed by cars, electricity production and other industries. The growing and harvesting of crops and the raising of livestock are creating less greenhouse gas per unit than a generation ago.  

How are we doing this? The use of conservation and no-till crops is on the rise. Natural topsoil is being left undisturbed during planting and harvesting, lowering the chances of erosion from rain or wind and trapping carbon within the earth instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.

Choosing the best crop for a particular region reduces water usage; varying the types of crops planted in a field increases soil fertility and harvests. Satellite technology helps farmers plant and harvest crops more efficiently, requiring less fuel and labor.

We’re using geothermal energy and harnessing the power of the sun and wind. Changing the diets for livestock is creating fewer emissions. Methane digesters are capturing and neutralizing animal waste, turning it into fuel and fertilizer.

No one food production system can meet all of the world’s needs. What is clear, however, is that we in agriculture must keep striving to use innovative, proven methods to meet food demand —whether it be organic or the latest in biotechnology. 

We need the entire range of production systems, sizes of operations, and the ingenuity of the men and women of agriculture to feed the world now and to meet the challenges of feeding an estimated population of 9 billion people by 2050.

Can we make improvements? Absolutely. But, let’s not discount the incredible progress we’ve made in a very short time. A little more than a hundred years ago, 40 percent of Americans lived on farms.

Today, just 2 percent of the country’s population is responsible for raising the food we eat every day, giving the other 98 percent of our nation the freedom to care for their families, treat the sick, and look for disease cures — all without worrying where their next meal will come from. That makes the small army of dedicated farmers and ranchers part of the solution, not the problem. 

Zippy Duvall is the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation and a third-generation farmer from Georgia.