By: Jimmy Echols, Namesake of Jaemor Farms
A current buzzword in agricultural circles is sustainable. No doubt it means different things to different folks. As a farmer for sixty years and an observer of the farming scene, I would like to tell you what sustainable agriculture means to me.
First of all, it is people who have the many skills required to successfully produce farm products on an ongoing basis and the willingness to endure the toil, to take the risks and make the sacrifices necessary to carry on in spite of adversity and hardship. A sustainable farmer has an almost mystical love for the land. He or she must have a vision that sweeps across years and generations. We must realize that the decisions we make and the actions we take many times have an impact far beyond our own years. We must plan, build and plant, foregoing immediate gratification, for the ones who come after us.
Next, farmers who expect to farm more than a year or two must make a profit. Profits sustain a farmer and his family. A reasonable profit built into the price of any product is insurance that the shelves in the marketplace will have products on them next week, next year and the next generation.
Third, we must protect the land. We no longer have the option, as many earlier societies had, of “wearing out” the land and moving on. Our number one problem is soil erosion. We cannot farm soil that has washed down the river. We use cover crops, selection of appropriate crops and crop rotations among other tools to help control soil erosion. Depletion of and imbalances of plant nutrients must be addressed. The technological advances in determining crop nutrition needs and in precision application of the exact amounts needed by each crop and in each field is exciting and very important in sustaining production over many years.
We must use pesticides judiciously and intelligently. Without them, we will have an epidemic of a disease (of humans) called “hollow-belly”. It can be fatal. I have personally seen crops completely ruined by plant pests and diseases. We can no longer use fire as help in controlling insects and diseases. Again crop rotations help in this area too. Pesticide rotations are helpful. Most of the pesticides of a generation ago are no longer in use and many of the newer ones leave no residue and are safer to use.
On our farm, we have been using much of the same land for more than 100 years. It is more productive than ever, providing more and more people with safe, nutritious and affordable fruits and vegetables. God gets the credit for all of this.
Finally, what good is sustainable agricultural production without a food distribution system? While many of us make our livelihood marketing directly to the consumer, most of our people most of the time must buy their food from stores, supermarkets and restaurants. Our food distribution system is vast, complex and very efficient. It involves not only farmers, but brokers, transporters, processors, distributors, packaging, storage facilities as well as retailers and many others.
Let’s be sustainable!
Note: The Echols family first started farming in 1912. A combination of conservation practices, technology, efficient water usage, and implementation of research have kept our family’s farm in production on the same land for five generations.