Tennessee’s Farmers Keep Low Profile On Earth Day

This year marks the forty-first observation of Earth Day in this country, with numerous special events scheduled on April 22. It began in the spring of 1970 when I was completing my senior year of college, which seems like only yesterday. I know, you’ve heard that old line before, but it does bring back memories of a time when the thoughts of worrying about the planet was not that big of a deal to many of us who had low numbers in the army’s draft system. Only a certain few were involved with Earth Day and back in those days they were considered to have a little different agenda than the average citizen.

We are all involved in going “green” these days and in some areas, almost to an extreme. I heard of two just-out-of-college girls who were eating at a Chinese restaurant. Just before their meal arrived, when the waiter placed chopsticks on the table in front of them, one of the young ladies with somewhat of a disgusted look on her face, made a point of reaching into her purse and pulling out her own pair. Taking her own special chopsticks from a container with the logo “save the earth” imprinted on it, she looked at the waiter and said, “As an environmentalist, I do not approve of destroying our forests for throwaway utensils.”

The waiter did his own inspection of her chopsticks and with somewhat of a grin on his face he answered the young ladies by commenting, “Very beautiful are your chopsticks. Most certainly you saved a tree, but I do believe your chopsticks are ivory.”        

Nationally and worldwide we celebrate this special day to remind everyone about the importance of protecting and conserving the water, air, and soil that are so vital to each and every one of us. There will be parades, special school projects and classes, festivals, and other festivities to commemorate Earth Day. There is even an Earth Day organization that works year round with a web page on the Internet. You can find it at http://www.earthday.org.

However, while others are proclaiming the need for saving our earth on TV, in newspapers, and getting worked up over “Global Warming” by supporting “Global Whining” during this one-day commemoration each year, one group of individuals will actually be doing something about it. They will not be seen marching, pretending to be green or any of those things to get media attention. Instead, they will treat the day as any other.

America’s and Tennessee’s farmers will view the day of April 22 just as they have each and every day since the inception of Earth Day back in 1970. They will rise early, go to the fields and work from sunup until sundown to preserve the natural resources that they have been taught to conserve from past generations. They will continue to keep a low profile just as their ancestors have done as they too took great strides toward protecting and conserving our environment. There is a great difference in talking about doing something and actually doing it. Earth Day is everyday on Tennessee’s farms.

Farmers today are embracing new technology, adopting new farming methods and investing in business services to help them excel in an environmentally sensitive world. Here are just a few of the modern-day agriculture practices used by farmers to protect our earth:

    “¢ Since 1982, U.S. land used for crops has declined by 70 million acres. Conservation tillage, a way of farming that reduces erosion (soil loss) on cropland while using less energy, has grown from 17 percent of acreage in 1982 to 63 percent currently.

  “¢ Farmers maintain over 1.3 million acres of grass waterways, allowing water to flow naturally from crops without eroding soil.

  “¢ While farm and ranch productivity has increased dramatically since 1950, the use of resources (labor, seeds, feed, fertilizer, etc.) required for production has declined markedly.

  “¢ Cattle producers and others control water run-off with sod waterways and diversions, erosion control structures and catch basins.

    “¢ Just as urban families recycle grass, newspaper and aluminum, farm families have practiced recycling for a long time by applying manure to fields to replace nutrients in the soil.

  “¢ Agricultural land provides habitat for 75 percent of the nation’s wildlife.

In Tennessee alone, the use of no-till planting to save soil from erosion has increased over 75 percent in the last twenty years. With modern methods, one acre of land in the U.S. (about the size of a football field) can produce 42,000 pounds of strawberries; 11,000 heads of lettuce; 25,400 pounds of potatoes; 8,900 pounds of sweet corn; or 640 pounds of cotton lint.

It is good to have an Earth Day to talk about what is needed to save our environment, but it is more important to be doing something about it. Just like the college girls who saved a tree but shot an elephant in doing so, it is not good to complain about agriculture with your mouth full.

Farmers may keep a low profile on Earth Day, but they are doing more than their fair share to help protect this planet for the future generations to come.  


– Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com