Guest commentary: Washington's decisions affect American farmers
By LIN WARFEL
I am a farmer on a centennial farm established in 1882 by my great-grandparents. The American farmer feeds himself and 155 other people. I am a conservationist, a steward of the land. I am striving to leave my soil, my farm and the world a better place than I found it. I know the soil I farm is a precious commodity. It is a gift to be appreciated and respected as there is a limited supply and Mother Earth isn't getting any bigger.
As a farmer landowner some of my land is enrolled in land conservation programs, which are subject to federal guidelines. The current conservation programs in place help to reduce soil erosion; restore wetlands and buffers; reduce carbon dioxide emissions; provide wildlife habitats and refuges; protect environmentally sensitive land; and safeguard ground water and surface water.
Strip till is a fairly new conservation technique that uses minimum tillage and allows deep placement of nutrients so they won't run off. Over the last two years, Champaign County farmers have been able to use this new technology on 10,000-plus acres with the help of an IEPA Grant. Champaign County landowners also planned to install riparian forest buffers, a vegetated area protecting streams from adjacent land uses, on 35 acres of land.
Filter strips, another conservation technique utilized by farmers, are on 70 percent of the 690 miles of streams and ditches in Champaign County. Filter strips are vegetated areas between wetlands, streams, lakes and cropland, grazing land, or forestland. They are typically located where runoff water leaves a field. New filter strips have been planned on an additional 92 acres and 60 acres renewed.
New conservation techniques arise from year to year. One technique currently making waves, and of increasing interest, is the use of cover crops to protect the soil. Cover crops can be very beneficial and perform several functions including management of soil fertility, soil quality, water, weeds, pests, diseases, biodiversity and wildlife. Oftentimes a cover crop's primary function is to prevent soil erosion. Radishes, oats, mustard and ryegrass are just a few types of cover crops that can be grown yearly. Farmers in Champaign County planned to grow over 1,000 acres of cover crops last year. Planting cover crops may be a trend for the future that has been gaining steam over the last several years.
As a landowner I really enjoy learning about the benefits of these new conservation technologies. Several agricultural organizations such as the Champaign Soil and Water Conservation District and the Champaign County Farm Bureau provide workshops and seminars informing, educating and encouraging landowners. Every winter I attend these workshops to take advantage of the conservation education with an open mind. My neighbors and I have a strong land ethic and are striving to do our fair share to keep our land in great shape.
Farmland conservation is connected to Farm Bill legislation with technical assistance, incentive payments and cost-share programs all playing a role.
Regretfully, the Farm Bill legislation is currently on the back burner in Washington. Adding any agricultural programs to the Farm Bill, including conservation programs, is an uphill battle. Currently, agriculture programs are expected to make up only 2 percent of total federal spending over the next 10 years. A majority of what you find in the current Farm Bill is dedicated to nutritional programs — 82 percent of the Farm Bill spending goes to programs that have literally helped put food on people's tables during these tough economic times. Nine percent of Farm Bill spending will go to crop insurance; 7 percent to conservation; and 7 percent to "subsidies."
It makes sense to support good farm policy with the Farm Bill being the single biggest piece of legislation on the federal level which includes nutrition, a safety net for farmers, and conservation practices. Good farm policy provides for a stable food supply, soil and water conservation benefits, and nutrition assistance for the nation's children, senior citizens and poor. In America, 8 percent of the typical family budget is spent on food; this is the lowest in the world. Considering the quality, quantity and diversity of food available in our grocery stores, this is really impressive.
As you are out and about, look out your car window and take notice of the farm fields around you. Is there bare soil, a cover crop, maybe a filter strip? Imagine the hours and hours the American farmer has spent caring for the land. This land has been producing food for American families for generations. We know it is up to us to protect it and keep it fertile for future generations. Farming is business, and make no mistake, what happens in Washington affects all of us.
Lin Warfel has been farming for 49 years, 39 of which have been in the Tolono area on a centennial farm begun by his great-grandparents. He has long been active in our community, particularly on issues related to education and agriculture. He is the Champaign County Farm Bureau president.