As Earth Day draws near, we reflect on the sustainability of the agricultural industry and the efforts producers make every day to be stewards of the land and reduce their impact on the earth’s resources. Here are a few ways Northeast producers are reducing, reusing and recycling.
State supported programs help recycle the plastic greenhouse growers use, such as from pots, flats, hanging baskets, drip irrigation tape, and even plastic plant labels, just to name a few! This recycling practice promotes sustainability of the entire greenhouse production industry. And while most plastic buyers do not pay much for used plastic, growers that recycle save on expensive pickup, hauling and waste disposal fees – so it’s really a win-win for the environment and the grower.
Greenhouse growers also recycle water to ensure it is the cleanest, most pure water available, allowing them to reduce pesticide and fungicide use, improve plant health and realize cost savings.
Timber producers often recycle their second-hand or scrap timber, or in other words the ‘leftovers’ after timber has been milled. This leftover timber is very versatile and can be recycled into new products, such as particleboard, animal bedding, mulch and compost, thereby returning these leftovers to the economic cycle. Some farms help extend the service use of timber through biomass energy as well. This energy production reduces the reliance on fossil fuels and emits fewer greenhouse gas emissions than other alternatives.
Crop farmers have a system known as “no-till” that conserves the soil, adds vital nutrients and plant material, and prevents wind and water erosion. When farmers harvest their crop in the fall, they’ll leave all of the leftover plant material in the field instead of working the leftover plant back into the soil. The root system left in the field holds the soil in place. When the plant finally breaks down, all of that organic matter goes back into the soil. This method keeps moisture and carbon in the ground, helping both our plants and the environment.
Dairy farms actively recycle a number of important resources. Starting with the cows themselves, their diet consists of about 20 percent agricultural byproduct. These byproducts include brewers’ grain, cottonseed hulls, citrus pulp and canola seeds – items that would be wasted if it wasn’t for the cows turning it into nutritious food.
Cows’ manure is also a valuable resource, containing nitrogen and phosphorus, and can be spread as a crop fertilizer. Cow manure can also be recycled through a methane digester. This process recycles the manure into clean, renewable energy or dries it out to be used as bedding for cows.
Dairy producers also recycle water. The water used to cool milk after a cow is milked can be recycled as drinking water for the cows, to cool the animals in warm weather or to clean equipment and barns.
With nearly 80,000 farms and more than 12 million acres of farmland across the Northeast, producers' role in conserving our environment is an important one. As stewards of the land, their efforts preserve our region’s working landscapes and waterfronts, affording open space, clean air and water.