In honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, celebrated on April 22, consider these ways your farm and acreage can become more environmentally friendly and climate-smart.
Reduce Soil Tillage. This preserves soil structure for better water absorption and holds soil in place. It also sequesters carbon, which may slow climate change. CropLife International says reduced soil tillage could equal the same reduced carbon emissions as taking 12.4 million cars off the road.
Rotate Crops. Biodiversity adds to the mix of soil microorganisms, improving soil health. It also helps control pests that thrive in one crop but starve out in another. Legumes like alfalfa or soybeans add nitrogen to the soil, where it is available for the next year’s corn crop. University of Wisconsin Extension research says corn following alfalfa may not need any supplemental nitrogen.
Use Low-Pressure Irrigation. Pivot irrigation systems usually spew water skyward under 100 pounds of pressure. Low-pressure drop tubes dribble the water over the crop canopy at about 30 pounds, saving energy. An even bigger savings is 15% less water lost to evaporation.
Plant Cover Crops. These cool-weather plants keep the ground covered between growing seasons. They prevent soil erosion, hold nutrients, suppress weeds and improve soil health. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) experts say cover crops can also save you money, especially if you can use them to graze livestock rather than feed hay or silage.
Dispose of Outdated Pesticides. The product label may tell you how to properly dispose of it. Or, your state may participate in a program called Clean Sweep, which collects and disposes of old pesticides from farms. The Illinois Department of Agriculture, for instance, uses EPA funding to conduct annual Clean Sweep programs in rotating regions.
Support Pollinators. Bees and butterflies pollinate flowering crops as they gather nectar. Their numbers are in decline, partly due to loss of habitat. You can seed bee-friendly flowering plants in fence lines, road ditches or other untilled areas. According to the NRCS, most wild bees are bumble, digger and sweat. They nest in dry twigs, dead branches or in the ground.
Change Your Lightbulbs. An incandescent bulb using 100 watts of electricity can be replaced with a 23-watt CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) to produce the same amount of light on 75% less energy. It could save you $10 per bulb per year, say Cooperative Extension experts. CFLs last up to 10 times longer, too.
Recycle Plastics. Even a modest-size dairy of 300 cows can produce 6,000 pounds of plastic waste a year, according to an estimate by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Some businesses specialize in recycling farm plastics. Delta Plastics in Arkansas takes old irrigation polytubes. Agri-Plas in Oregon annually recycles 12 million pounds of bale wrap, silage bags, chemical containers and greenhouse trays.