By Hannah Becker on February 16, 2016

How does ag impact the environment?

wheat harvest

Agriculture and the environment have a symbiotic relationship.

Agriculture impacts the environment and the environment impacts agriculture.

Sometimes the impact is good – like when farmland provides conducive habitat for endangered wildlife.

Other times the impact isn’t so awesome – like when energy inefficient equipment is utilized to harvest crops.

The environmental impact – positive or negative – agriculture presents depends on the type of production practices utilized. 

The good news is environmentally friendly agriculture practices are becoming more of the norm, a by-product of the industry’s dedication to fulfilling its role as environmental stewards. 

Environmentally friendly practices start in the field

Going-green government programs, tightened environmental regulations and improved equipment are all great initiatives; however, environmentally friendly production practices start in the field. Today’s farmers have access to a wide variety of environmental impact metrics to help assess his or her operation’s role in the ensuring our world is the best it can be.

The Fieldprint Calculator, an online resource from the Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, allows farmers the ability to assess his or her own operation’s environmental impact. By providing customized reports and recommendations, the Fieldprint Calculator helps farmers identify areas of improvement and strategize effective game plans to ensure their farm’s footprint is minimal.

Thank the Dust Bowl for modern conservation resources

In response to the Dirty '30s' severe dust storms, Congress established the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) to assist agriculture producers with environmentally friendly production practices. Over the years, the SCS evolved into the government entity known today as the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). While the name has changed, the NRCS continues to fulfill its founder’s mission to partner with agriculture producers to conserve our lands and ecosystems.

Today, the NRCS offers many resource incentives to farmers, including conservation training and financial assistance. Whether you’re a producer seeking to integrate solar energy into your facilities, or struggling to reach production goals mid-drought, the NRCS provides free services to facilitate a healthy partnership between agriculture and our environment.

Agriculture is committed to preserving our environment

The 2012 Environmental and Socioeconomic Indicators Report analyzed the environmental impact of six commodity crops (corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, rice and potatoes) produced in the United States.

Environmental data was annually collected from 1980 to 2011, and the analysis revealed all six selected commodity crops were being produced more efficiently and environmentally conscious than they were 30 years ago.

Soil erosion per unit of production had improved from 47 to 67 percent, and energy use and greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production had decreased between 15 percent and more than 42 percent for all six crops analyzed. In spite of agriculture’s ability to produce more crops per acre, industry-linked negative environmental impact has decreased.

Way to go ag!

Throughout the years, the environmental effects of modern agriculture production have sparked many heated discussions. Soil erosion, water conservation, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and wildlife preservation are just a few of the concerns voiced.

Thankfully, the agriculture industry has responded by demonstrating its commitment to our earth.

Remember: Agriculture impacts the environment and the environment impacts agriculture. As stewards of the land, environmentally conscious farmers can produce the food we need to remain healthy in a healthy world. 

Want to learn more? See other ways ag is going green here

  • Hannah Becker

    Hannah Becker

    Hannah Becker is a millennial author, farmer, and marketing consultant. With the sole professional goal of growing up to "be a cowgirl," Hannah is the enthusiastic farmer behind Willow Springs Farm, in Franklin County, Kan. Hannah has a B.S. in Animal & Dairy Science from Mississippi State University, and a... Read more