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Sustainable Agriculture – Earth Day 2015

April 22, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASustainable agriculture has become a buzz word, a fashionable thing to be. Sustainable is not just water, waste, environmental, but also financial and part of a community ecosystem.

Each state, each type of farming or ranching, each management style all has a community ecosystem. There’s one for the outdoor hog people, one for confinement hog people, one for feeder cattle, one for stock cow/calf production, one for purebred cattle, one for sheep, one for purebred sheep, purebred hogs, laying chickens that are free range, confinement layers, broiler production, turkey production…and not even getting to all livestock let alone crops, fruits, inedible agriculture! How often do these folks get out of their own type of agriculture? Many are so busy tending to their operations there’s not time to get beyond unless at a general agriculture event like farm bureau meetings. Many seek out others online.

Agriculture is diverse! Consider these quick facts about just Alabama agriculture, found recently in an Alabama Agriculture publication I picked up at the farmer’s cooperative when I picked up feed.

The annual economic impact of agriculture and forestries provides $70.4 billion to the state of Alabama. Cullman county is the top producing poultry county in the state, with 85.5% of agriculture dedicated to poultry and eggs (2010 figures). In Alabama there’s an average of one cow for every three people in the state. One of every 4.6 jobs in Alabama is associated with agriculture, forestry or a related industry.

Top 10 agriculture products in Alabama:

1. Broilers. Over $3.6 billion and 2nd in the US is chickens for meat.

2. About 1.24 million cattle and calves make the 2nd largest ag sector. Most are, indeed, outside on pasture!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA3. Up from last year, and 9th nationally in 2013, egg production, with an average of 237 eggs per layer. That’s a lot of eggs!

4. A product that makes plastics, explosives and high quality paper products, with 789 pounds per acre, Alabama is 10th nationally in…cotton!

5. Increasing exports of soybeans, soybean meal and soybean oil put soybeans as the 5th largest crop in Alabama.

6. Alabama is 4th in the US of peanuts, with the Alabama Peanut festival a highlight in the state.

7. Grown in all 50 states, corn brings $139million to state farmers.

8. With an average yield of 69 bushels per acre, wheat is another big crop in Alabama.

9. Fourth in the US there are 156 aquaculture farms growing tilapia, trout, bass, carp, catfish and flounder. More than 25,000 acres are dedicated to aquaculture in ponds or other water systems.

10. Hogs round out the top 10, with nearly 10 million pounds of pork produced in 2013.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlabama farms are 91% family or individually owned. Agritourism is increasing, from farmers markets and stands to winery tours, farm stays and other ag related entertainment that is educational. Alabama is 5th nationally for electricity generated from biomass – and first for pulp production in the US. Renewable energy, sustainable building products, and 60% of the biomass found in forest resources, Alabama is a big market for forestry. With decreasing focus on coal, increasing focus on wood pellets for fuel, switchgrass cubes and other crops seek to increase in turning natural products into biomass. Alabama is developing growing bamboo for a domestic market for sustainable building products.

Alabama has more than 77,000 miles of streams and rivers, with 120,000 irrigated acres. The timing of water can call for irrigation needs, which is hard to remember when everything is muddy and wet! This time of year it rains more than it’s sunny, but crops of all kinds will need water during the hot summer too.

Niche crops like satsumas, kiwifruit and shiitake mushrooms, with research on Asian pears, jujube, pawpaws, pomegranates and bananas being done. While 100 acres of satsumas doesn’t compare to the chicken receipts, the small, slow growing fruit can be container grown or in ground, and look like a small orange.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAForage is another big crop, with the biggest quality forage production in the north end of the state. Turkey production is limited to one commercial farm but many small keepers of America’s favorite holiday meal producers.

While horses, rabbits and other vegetable crops weren’t mentioned, all have a prominent spot for those living and making home in Alabama.

These are done with sustainability in mind – keeping waterways clear, taking care of the next generation whether that’s the next batch of chickens or the next high school graduation class it’s important to not only look around now, but look back and look ahead.

For agriculture, every day is earth day. We plant trees, use windbreaks, make use of grass, strive to make new options available and balance production with profit as much as possible. We enjoy an abundance of food with an incredible amount of choices every time we step into a grocery store or farmer’s market. We started our day with an opossum that wandered into the barn and was caught in the box trap set out.

Sustainable. With songbirds and other visitors who do no harm it’s a balance. Destructive pests are something else, but striving to reuse, recycle and make the most of everything that we can, it’s important to keep our eyes on the goals we have. American agriculture both large and small is important for the environment. Much of America’s wildlife is at home on America’s farms.

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