Ten of the Best: America’s Environmentally Sustainable Farmers and Producers
This Earth Day, The U.S. Sustainability Alliance highlights some of the many American farmers and producers championing environmental sustainability.
Their goal is to conserve natural resources and protect the soil and, in so doing, leave the land in better shape for the next generation.
For multi-award-winning cotton farmer Jay Hardwick, sustainability means balancing the needs of the land with the needs of the business. It is about protecting the biodiversity of the farm and the wildlife habitat that surrounds it while safeguarding the income stream on which the family depends.
When it comes to water conservation, Arkansas rice farmer Scott Matthews is a master. He describes his approach to irrigation as a giant mathematical equation. And it appears to be working. Due to his precise irrigation conservation practices, Scott has already reduced water use in his rice fields by 40 percent.
This fourth-generation producer from North Dakota is a strong advocate of GM crops, which he first started using 25 years ago. Monte says that implementing this technology alongside other practices, such as precision planting and soil nutrient monitoring, has led to cost savings, better yields, and higher quality, safer crops.
Native Alaskan Bill Thomas is a commercial fisherman, a politician and a sustainability advocate. We recently interviewed him for the USSA podcast when he provided a fascinating insight into Alaska’s fishing industry and its responsible approach to fisheries management. In fact, as Bill explains, sustainability has been enshrined in Alaska’s State Constitution since 1959.
Jeff Huckaby is a fourth-generation farmer who learned to grow carrots and potatoes from his grandfather at an early age. He is also a first-generation organic farmer voted Organic Farmer of the Year in 2020. For Jeff, sustainable farming is the key to productivity. Ultimately, it leaves the soil in better condition making it stronger and healthier for each new crop.
Fifth-generation wheat grower Peter Hvidsten believes that less is more. “I don’t ever want to waste one cent of my money on any investment or any input that’s not necessary,” he says. Whether applying fertilizer or tilling the ground, Peter advocates using just the right amount and reducing the number of field passes with his machinery to save fuel and money. It is about being as efficient and sustainable as possible.
Barry Evans, Field to Market’s 2021 Farmer of the Year, was a recent guest on the USSA podcast. It was fascinating to hear about his pioneering approach to water and soil conservation as he rises to the challenge of growing cotton and grain sorghum in the resource-limited High Plains.
The importance of sustainability was ingrained in lobsterman Sonny Beal from an early age by his father. Conservation is part of his heritage, he says, and dates back more than 100 years when Maine lobstermen started measuring their catch and only keeping the mature lobsters. Later this expanded to “notching” egg-bearing females to identify them as breeders even if they aren’t carrying eggs.
“My goal is to build a symbiotic relationship with Mother Nature,” says award-winning corn and soybean farmer Rick Clark. Some of the sustainable practices he uses to achieve that are cover crops, no-till farming and what he refers to as “farming green”. This involves planting the farm’s cash crop into a living, growing green cover crop, and only terminating the cover crop after he has finished planting. He says this maximizes the benefits while delivering even more nutrients.
To complete our line-up, we focus on not just one but eight women farmers who share a commitment to sustainability, whether conserving natural resources or protecting the soil. They range from almond grower Christine Gemperle, whose approach to water conservation is exemplary, to rice farmer Jennifer James who takes pride in using practices to conserve the natural resources that have sustained her family’s livelihood for over 100 years.