By Tom Driscoll, Director of NFU Foundation and Conservation Policy, & Hannah Packman, NFU Communications Coordinator

It’s the second day of Climate Week NYC, an event dedicated to keeping climate action at the top of the global agenda, making the discussion of agriculture and sustainability particularly apropos. Farmers and ranchers maintain vast potential to mitigate the effects of climate change. Like many other businesses leaders, they can take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their operations, but they are also uniquely able to sink atmospheric greenhouse gases on the land they manage. By implementing conservation practices that improve soil health, farmers can sequester excess carbon that would otherwise exacerbate the effects of climate change.

Although all food producers can benefit from on-farm conservation, beginning farmers may have a particular interest in adopting such techniques. The consequences of climate change, if left unchecked, will only get worse over time, making agriculture increasingly challenging. Beginning farmers still have many decades left in the field, and will feel the effects more than farmers near retirement. Similarly, soil health is a key ingredient for the long term success of an operation. Beginning farmers will want to build soil health from the start, as it will increase yields, profits, and the operation’s longevity. Fortunately, most of the same practices that mitigate climate change also improve soil fertility, so farmers can kill two birds with one stone.

Conservation has another advantage: cutting input costs. Between seeds, crop protection, fertilizer, and irrigation, there are a lot of input costs associated with farming, as beginning farmers are keenly aware. And they frequently can’t access sufficient credit to use all the inputs they want.

Beginning producers might want to think differently than established farmers with more access to operating loans in the lean, early years. Thinking about securing a bigger margin by saving on inputs, rather than maximizing yields, may be a beneficial strategy for such farmers. Good soil health can reduce the need for fertilizer and irrigation. Some practices can also help with disease and pest management, consequently decreasing pesticide costs. Though fewer fertilizer applications may yield less than many applications, after initial investments in equipment, it won’t be as expensive to get to harvest.

NFU’s Climate Column has covered many practices that can enhance soil health and reduce input costs:

No Till

Cover Crops

Strip Till

Contour Farming

Mulch Till 

Field Borders

Filter Strips

Grassed Waterways

Stripcropping

Vegetative Barriers 

Rotational Grazing

If you’re looking for a place to start, check out our post on Conservation Planning, an important step to learn more about these practices and receive technical or financial assistance for employing them.

Do you have access to capital for all the fertilizer, crop protection or power you’d like to use on your farm? Would saving on inputs with better soil health improve your farm operation? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


Like what you’ve read? Check out our Beginning Farmer Forum home page, and join the conversation in the Beginning Farmer Forum Facebook group.

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