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Save the Trees or I’ll Break Your Knees: The future of sustainable farming

Farmers are the backbone of society. No farmers? No crops. No crops? No food. No food? Famine, which historically can cause enough stress to facilitate immense social unrest. 

The well-being of modern society rests on the shoulders of farmers. Unfortunately, many farming methods prove to be harmful to the environment, in turn hurting farmers and putting their livelihoods at stake along with the well-being of the planet. 

This puts environmentalists and farmers alike in a tough position: How can we simultaneously support farmers and the planet? The answer to this is unclear, but the best place to start is making farming more sustainable by taking care to support a healthy environment, profitability for farmers and encourage government programs and policy.

Some of the main environmental concerns with current agricultural systems in the U.S. are the impacts on natural resources, such as soil and water, and the emission of greenhouse gases. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, forestry and agriculture accounted for 10.5% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. The USDA also reports that while carbon dioxide emissions are the most common globally, this is not the case within the agricultural economy as a whole, with 12.3% of emissions being carbon dioxide, 36.2% methane and 51.4% nitrous oxide. Traditional farming also creates environmental risk by practices such as tilling, a method to prepare soil for seeding. Tilling practices can be damaging to soil health and carbon content, water pollution and the energy and pesticide use of farmers.

It’s easy to understand how farmers may feel threatened by some aspects of environmentalism, seeing it as an incursion on their livelihoods when environmentalists become critical of their methods. However, what is best for the planet and the population, including farmers, is to get more of them on board with sustainable farming by making it more profitable for them. 

According to the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, or IATP, there are already agricultural incentive programs in place for farmers that provide monetary incentives in exchange for taking extra environmental precautions in their work. Increasing financial opportunities for farmers is one of the most productive ways to make way for sustainable farming, as it directly benefits those on the front lines of the issue. The problem with this, however, is not a lack of willingness to partake in such programs but a lack of funding. 

IATP reports that two incentive programs, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP, and the Conservation Stewardship Program, or CSP, have had to deny farmers contracts at least partially due to a lack of funding, with EQIP only accepting 31% of its applications and CSP only 43%, collectively denying over 1 million farmers the opportunity to receive compensation in exchange for implementing more sustainable practices.

There is no easy answer for a problem as multifaceted as climate change, especially pertaining to agriculture. However, there are absolutely steps that can be taken to both uplift those in the agriculture industry and begin to heal our planet. 

Meg Diehl is a freshman studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Meg by tweeting her at @irlbug.

Meg Diehl

Assistant Opinion Editor

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