Commentary-Kansas farmers must continue search for better ways to farm

Without question, agricultural research is one of the most vital investments we can make for the 21st century. This research is necessary for feeding our increasing populations and protecting our planet.

Agricultural research has been helping people by fighting hunger and lowering food costs for years. It also aids rural America, which has a higher wage structure than some of the developing countries and faces competition in the world marketplace.

High-yield farming is the result of agricultural research. Some would say high-yield farming is the greatest achievement of human civilization for the environment.

Increased crop yields since 1960 are saving millions of square miles of wildlife habitat around the world from being plowed down for low-yield crops. Latest estimates say these savings in land are equal to the United States, Europe and Brazil.

Farming cannot return to an earlier time period when new technology and research were not as much a part of the agricultural scene.

If the United States farmer attempted to produce the crops we harvest in this decade with the technology that prevailed in the ?40s, it would require an additional area of about 200 million hectares of land of similar quality, say those in USDA agricultural research. To find such land, most of the forests east of the Mississippi River would have to be chopped down and most pastures would have to be plowed up and planted to annual crops.

With the use of innovative practices, farmers have reduced soil erosion.

Today, most farmers are using systems that leave at least 40 percent or more crop residue after planting. No till, ridge till and mulch till account for the reduction in soil loss.

The most sustainable farming in the world today is done with hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizer, pesticides used in integrated pest management and conservation tillage, according to the Soil and Water Conserva?tion Society of the United States.

Kansas farmers, and their counterparts across the United States, take responsibility for the conservation of valuable topsoil seriously.

This country has as much of this planet?s valuable cropland as any other nation. U.S. farmers also have the infrastructure needed to make this land productive.

Farmers can, and will, do more to improve their environment. They will conserve more water, monitor grassland grazing and continue to implement environmentally sound techniques that will ensure preservation of the land.

Farmers will change and adopt new techniques spawned by agricultural research. High-yield farming works, and will continue to work because it is flexible enough to accept and adapt to change.

No agricultural system, or any system, is perfect. Farmers must continue to search for better ways to farm through research and education.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.

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