Looking after the land makes good sense for farmers, SIAL delegates hear

November 3, 2023

The importance of farmers developing agricultural practices that are more environmentally friendly is seen as increasingly important as the world faces climate change and biodiversity loss

Issues such as these were discussed at a session during the most recent edition of SIAL Paris, where among the speakers was Matthew Lohr, the 5th Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry for the American state of Virginia, known officially as the Commonwealth of Virginia.

He said it was important for farmers to be motivated to carry out actions that are good for conservation and the climate, and that they have the resources needed to do this.

“A big part of being able to motivate farmers for innovation is they have to see it first hand,” he said. “I’m a big believer in field days and working with our co-operative extension service to be able to have the tools ready so that farmers can embrace it.”

“Having those early adopters certainly helps. In any community there’s going to be certain farmers that are respected. If they’re willing to jump on to new types of innovation [they can] be a role model for their community.”

The role of government, he said, was to bring stakeholders and partners together and to provide financial support for projects.

Looking after the land makes good sense for farmers, SIAL delegates hear

Photo: Spencer Scott Pugh / Unsplash

“Let’s face it, technology and innovation’s expensive,” he said. “The government has a really important role to step up and provide money to assist them in these efforts.

“Fortunately what’s going on now at USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] is that there’s a lot of money in the climate space to be able to work with groups willing to use innovation to be better stewards of the land.”

He said it was important to make producers know that conservation made good financial sense. Practices such as no-till farming and rotating crops are good for the soil and so help farmers financially.

Another speaker was Wendy Yeager, a fourth-generation farmer from Alabama, who also highlighted the importance of good environmental practice. She said that farmers “have to do more with less” and “need to be more profitable on [fewer] acres”.

“We still know our land better than anyone else, based on the conditions of the weather or great conditions,” she said. “It’s great that we have these partnerships, but I know my land better than anyone else and if I don’t take care of my land, it’s not going to take care of me.”

In comments from Mr Lohr, delegates heard that looking after soil could help farmers in the long term, since it could ensure that land was able to absorb more water in the event of heavy rains.

Looking after the land makes good sense for farmers, SIAL delegates hear

Photo: Yuriy Bogdanov / Unsplash

A major challenge facing farmers currently is inflation and Ms Yeager said that when it came to increased costs, “it hurts.”

“Our fertiliser costs this year are double, sometimes triple, depending on what we’re applying,” she said. “Not only am I having to be very smart about my input, I’m having to cut corners wherever I can.

“In years gone by, we may have applied a little bit extra fertiliser on a field that may not have called for it, just to keep the soil in good condition, but this year we only applied what was prescribed by our grid sampling because we needed to cut costs per acre.”

Brent Babb, from the US Soybean Export Council, also highlighted the high costs that many farmers are currently facing. “To plant that crop, now it can cost 50% more than it did three or four years ago to plant to same crop,” he said. “This year the prices were good for our farmers, they can get back a benefit, but not always.

“Worrying about weather, it’s always a concern. Worrying about market conditions, what’s going on in politics around the world. Agriculture is always more in the centre of politics than it needs to be.”

Main photo: Unsplash.com

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