by Pettus Read
I hadn't really thought much about Earth Day until just the other morning when I got caught in traffic behind an old Volkswagen Rabbit. Traffic wasn't moving very well in the rural town I was driving through on my way to work and the Rabbit I was following seemed to have seen its better days. Being primer gray, running sporadically with a worn out diesel engine, as well as, smoking like a steel mill smoke stack, the little Rabbit was doing its best to give "Mother Earth" and myself a major coronary.
On the back of the little car was a bumper sticker from several yesterdays ago containing a peace symbol and a picture of a strange looking set of plant leaves that appears on most drug prevention materials. Also located on the bumper was another sticker that urged everyone to save "Mother Earth NOW!" However, from the look of the car, the car owner and the bumper sticker, I am sure the term "now" happened several years ago.
As I attempted to breathe in spite of the diesel and oil fumes seeping into my car, I thought back to my college days when the person driving the car in front of me probably told us all that the earth was doomed.
This year marks the thirty-fifth observation of Earth Day in this country, with numerous special events scheduled. It began in the spring of 1970 when I was completing my senior year of college.
At that time in history, many of us thought those who practiced "Earth Day" were just a little on the weird side and if we ignored them they would just go away. However, today the environment has become a number one concern of most of us.
While the driver of the VW Rabbit still sports his earlier convictions, as well as, adds to the problem, others are using Earth Day to proclaim the need for saving our earth, on TV and in the newspapers. But, unlike those who like to talk-the-talk and not walk-the-walk, one group of individuals will actually be doing something about it.
America's and Tennessee's farmers will view the day of April 22 just as they have each and every day since the inception of Earth Day, back in 1970. They will rise early, go to the fields and work from sunup to sundown to preserve the natural resources that they have been taught to conserve from past generations. They will continue to keep a low profile, just as their ancestors did, as they too, took great strides toward protecting and conserving our environment. There is a great difference in talking about doing something and actually doing it. Earth Day is everyday on Tennessee's farms.
Recently, when a group of young farmers were surveyed, they mirrored past surveys, reporting a strong commitment to conservation and the use of environmentally beneficial farming practices. These findings are from the 13th annual survey of participants in the American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmer and Rancher program. A total of 294 respondents filled out the survey.
Young farmers and ranchers are extremely worried about the availability of land for their occupation. They also are asking for the federal government to be involved in establishing a comprehensive energy policy in which renewable fuels play a bigger role.
For the first time in the survey's history, energy policy was ranked as the number one thing the federal government should do to help in farming and ranching. It was listed number one on 21 percent of the surveys. In the previous two years, passing an energy law that includes a bigger role for renewable fuels (ethanol, biodiesel, wind, etc.) had been a distant fifth.
The use of conservation practices by the farmers and ranchers remained relatively stable in general, but the use of wildlife buffer strips mentioned by 23 percent of the respondents, increased by nearly 11 percentage points compared to last year. Over half (54 percent) of this year's respondents are using conservation tillage. Crop rotation is being used by just under half of the group (49 percent).
This year's group also uses the following practices: integrated pest management, 22 percent; conservation reserve program, 21 percent; contour/strip farming, 19 percent; and wetlands management, 11 percent.
It is good to have an Earth Day to talk about what is needed to save our environment, but it is more important to be doing something about it. Farmers may keep a low profile on Earth Day, but they are doing more than their fair share to help protect this planet for the future generations.