I grew up in Sioux Falls, SD so the environment to me was always fairly controlled. I had good weather, city parks, and, luckily, South Dakota has good air quality when compared to other states. I grew up as a "city kid" who "knew" the effects that agriculture had on SD and the environment, but it wasn't until I started working at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Brookings, SD that I really understood the impact.
Although it doesn't make the news nearly as often as CO2 emissions or pollution in the ocean, agriculture can have negative effects on the environment as well. Some of those effects include soil erosion, pesticides and their ability to drift and damage beneficial insects, and water contamination from fertilizers. However, we need agriculture to sustain our state and our bodies so instead of just accepting general agriculture practices as "that's just the way it is" we need to embrace sustainable agriculture and improve it for our future and our children's future.
Fortunately, sustainable agriculture practices are being researched and put to use in our own backyard. Local work being done in South Dakota includes:
- iGrow - An SDSU Extension service that works on agricultural - best practices' outreach to producers based on research conducted by South Dakota State University.
- Blue Dasher Farm - A small research farm in eastern SD that promotes research, education, and demonstration of regenerative agriculture practices.
- USDA-NCARL-ARS - A USDA research facility that focuses on sustainable agriculture.
Some of the sustainable practices include diversifying crops (crop rotation and cover crops), conservation tillage, and taking advantage of beneficial insects to control pests. Implementing sustainable agriculture can, short-term, help cut down on pesticide use but also, long-term, impact climate change (which is for another blog post!). Recognizing agriculture and its multifaceted reach on personal and global environmental health will hopefully bring to light some of positive work being done and the work that still needs to be accomplished in agriculture and its role in environmental and public health.
Aly Becker, MPH