How Agriculture Speaks Environmental

Jun 19, 2017

Download file Download the full Policy Brief.

Watch the corresponding video here

Key Findings

  1. A farm’s survival depends not only on financial factors, like crop prices, but also on the quality of the land, water, and natural habitat that are essential to the future sustainability of the operation. 
  2. Over 58 years - about the average age of a farm family operator - agriculture has increased production by 156 percent, reduced soil erosion by 85 percent, reduced dust six-fold, and reduced stubble burning 22 times.
  3. In 2007, the U.S. achieved $281.5 billion in agricultural output. Without productivity growth, it would take 78 percent more resources now to achieve the same level of production output as in 1949. 
  4. Through the 1990s, investment in agricultural extension grew as percentage of agricultural GDP to 1.35 percent. Extensive investments allowed farmers to work closely with experts to improve agricultural practices with the newest research and knowledge. 
  5. The combination of pesticides and biotech crops makes possible the adoption of environmentally friendly production methods. 
  6. No-till practices reduce fuel consumption and help store carbon in the soil. In 2014, the benefit of this farm practice was equivalent to removing 10 million cars from the road.  


Fighting fires in Eastern Oregon, I learned quickly that cattle outnumber people, dirt roads sprawl across the countryside, and most of the land is rangeland. Many farm families depend on the range for feeding cattle through the late spring and summer, and fires endanger this livelihood. You only need to experience one rangeland fire to realize that farmers are the most passionate, dedicated, and motivated firefighters on the line. They care for their cows and their livelihood, but farmers also care for the land. They fight longer, harder, and quicker, hoping to minimize damage to the open range. 

Yet farmers who care for the land so passionately are often accused of environmental degradation and regarded as the foe of the earth by urban foodies and activists. It is possibly due to the general public’s distance from the farm and misunderstanding of its intricacies. A form of inflammatory propaganda attacking agriculture has taken hold of mainstream media and college campuses, indoctrinating audiences with misinformed and anti-science claims. Those claiming to be “green” are frequently surrounded by jungles of concrete, while those truly caring for the environment live and work on the land every day.

Anti-farming arguments often defy common sense. In claiming that farmers disregard water, land, and wildlife, anti-farming activists ignore two simple truths. First, farm families live on and often own the very land they are accused of damaging. Second, many of these family farms have lived on the land for generations and intend for their farm to continue for many years into the future.

A farm’s survival doesn’t depend on monetary factors alone. The quality of the land, water, and natural habitat are also intricately connected with the future sustainability of the operation. To combat the claims of anti-farming arguments, one must realize that a farm family has no motivation to destroy their livelihood and the place where they live. Instead, farmers have every motivation to preserve, protect, and improve the quality of the environment on which their farm and their livelihood depend. 

This Policy Brief discusses how farmers are the best environmentalists and stewards of the land. Beginning with an overview of the progress agriculture has already made, this study focuses on the care farmers have for natural resources including: water, land, and air. A brief section of the report highlights the environmental benefits of biotechnology. Finally, the report looks at Washington’s Voluntary Stewardship Program and how it enhances the positive interaction between farmers and the environment. 

Download file Download the full Policy Brief.