Our planet’s future hinges on getting more farmers and ranchers to adopt advanced conservation practices.
AFT has spent four decades effectively promoting environmentally sound farming practices. Tens of thousands of farms and ranches have adopted conservation practices that serve goals like reducing runoff and rebuilding soil health. These practices include contour farming that reduces runoff, ditching techniques that capture nutrients before they enter waterways, no-till or low-till methods that minimize soil disruptions, active use of cover crops and green manures, innovative new methods for rotating crops, innovative new methods for rotating livestock, selecting crops and livestock that work better for a particular parcel of land, alley cropping that intermixes crops and trees, silvopasture that raises livestock in partially cleared woods, integrated pest management strategies that reduce pesticide use, precision agriculture that reduces the need for inputs, and on-farm composting of waste products that contributes back to soil health.
In AFT’s experience, farmers and ranchers care deeply about their land and want to do what’s right by it. They know it’s in their long-term interest to follow practices that are environmentally beneficial. Another motivation is that many of these practices also serve the bottom line by increasing productivity or reducing inputs.
But even when this “win-win” is possible, farmers have not always been quick to adopt these practices, in part because of the nature of farming. Farmers are cautious because they operate on such slim margins, and any change in operations could mean ruin. Farmers are also often reluctant to make changes when they are late in their career—and at present, forty percent of American farmers are age 65 or older.
Yet change is needed, now more than ever. The issue is not that farms create large environmental problems. (True, a few farms are major polluters, but most are not.) Rather, the issue is that farms have the opportunity to provide huge environmental benefits that our planet desperately needs. A major international study recently made it clear that we cannot keep global warming at a manageable level by simply reducing emissions, that in addition, we need to look at natural solutions that would draw atmospheric carbon into the soil. Farming has big role to play.
It’s time to elevate adoption of advanced conservation practices. The goal is no longer simply to farm in ways that limit or eliminate environmental harm, but rather, to restore our planet’s health by helping compensate for other economic sectors that cannot provide the benefits of farming and ranching.
This will require farmers to move beyond “best practices” to what AFT calls “next practices.” These will at times be the same practices on steroids. But unlike many current practices, few of these advanced practices will pay for themselves.
This next wave of work will ask farmers and ranchers to build soil health for the purpose of sequestering carbon. They will be asked to go beyond a level of soil improvement that is rewarded directly by the increased profits that stem from increased productivity. To incentivize farmers, we must work to ensure farmers are adequately compensated for providing these benefits, either through a new market mechanism or federal support.
AFT in Action
Programs & Projects
- We help farmers and ranchers adopt environment-enhancing farming practices, including ones that sequester carbon to combat climate change.
- We provide focused services to women non-operating landowners, to educate them about farming practices they can pursue with the farmers who lease their land.
- We are a key partner in operating the nation’s first-ever interstate water quality credit trading program that pays farmers to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus emissions (or runoff) from their land.
- We operate a pioneering project to enhance and protect pollinator habitat.
- We evaluate methods of improving water quality and soil health.
- We study quantifiable conservation outcomes.
- We explore market mechanisms that could compensate farmers for adopting advanced conservation practices.