Maintaining Change with Balance

Sustainability in Farming

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“We’re all conservation-minded…. That’s our livelihood.”
—Roric Paulman

Farmers play an important role as good stewards of the land, protecting the ecosystem and in turn the future of the farm. Maintaining habitat diversity (The range of habitats present in a region.) on the edges of farmland is critical to supporting species diversity (The number of species and abundance of each species that live in a particular location. ). The prudent and cautious use of chemical pesticides (A substance used for destroying insects or other organisms harmful to cultivated plants or to animals.) , herbicides (A substance that is toxic to plants and is used to destroy unwanted vegetation.), and fungicides (A chemical that destroys fungus) helps to protect pollinators (An animal that causes plants to make fruit or seeds by moving pollen from one part of the flower of a plant to another part) and maintain a clean and healthy water supply. Roric has worked at the local and state level to help bring farmers, landowners, city dwellers, conservationists, and industry together to help improve sustainability in agriculture. “The conversation is still the same: How much do we have? Is it in the right place in the right time? Is it of good quality?” He acknowledges that everyone has needs and expectations. “There’s demands on the system,” Roric says, “and we need to make sure that the system operates and operates efficiently,” but he understands that it’s important for everyone to come together to find solutions. Agricultural production and earth systems impact and influence one another. Farming dramatically changes an ecosystem. Habitat loss due to human activities and land fragmentation is the greatest threat to wildlife diversity (The distinctive study related to various types of species existing in the eco-system.).

Farmers like Roric are working to reduce these impacts. However, conservation programs need to have both environmental and economic benefits for landowners. “Nebraska producers recognize the importance of good stewardship, but conservation programs have to be economically viable and compliment the farm operation or they simply can’t be implemented,” explains Roric. Fortunately, there are state and federal programs that give farmers workable strategies that promote sustainability in farming, like the United States Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

Roric Paulman discussing farming practices.
Roric Paulman discussing farming practices.

This program was designed to encourage farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land that is marginally productive or flood-prone from agricultural production and instead plant native vegetation to improve the quality and health of the environment. CRP land must be removed from agricultural production for 10 to 15 years, and in return the farmer receives an annual rental payment from the federal government. The CRP was established by President Ronald Reagan in 1985 and is the nation’s largest private-lands conservation program. Participation in the program has improved water quality, reduced the effects of erosion, and improved habitat for threatened and endangered species across the United States.

Photo from the Dust Bowl era (Courtesy of History Nebraska).
Photo from the Dust Bowl era (Courtesy of History Nebraska).

Since the Dust Bowl era, farmers have been working to develop sustainable strategies for using water, soil, and other natural resources for the benefit of humans without depleting or destroying these renewable resources. Management practices like no-till, leaving crop residue on harvested fields, and crop diversity and rotation improve soil health and water quality.

Sustainable farm practices.
Sustainable farm practices.

Sustainable production systems like these make it possible to develop long-term strategies that give farmers the tools they need to conserve resources and successfully adapt to the challenges of increased climate variability. Innovative approaches like precision agriculture are the future of modern farming and make it possible for farmers to analyze data and adapt quickly.

Roric Paulman showing cover crops.
Roric Paulman showing cover crops.

“Today we run everything from our phones and iPads,” says Roric. “There’s hardly anything untouched by some sort of monitoring—a sensor, or satellite imagery, or drones.” Yet Roric insists that some things never change and that’s the value of getting your hands dirty out in the field. No amount of technology will ever alter the farmer’s connection to the land.


Recently, Roric was told that two generations from now, he can expect that teenagers won’t have to learn how to drive. He thought, “Holy smokes, that's my grandson, that's two generations away, and he won't learn to drive?” But he quickly dismissed this vision of the future, “Well, he’ll learn how to drive on the farm. I don't know, I guess I'm invested enough that there's still room for a butt on the seat, and boots on the ground….With all of the digital technology, all of the data aggregation (The compiling of information from databases with intent to prepare combined datasets for data processing.)—all those tools that go into the toolbox that help me make decisions—it still bears witnessing.” Roric is hopeful about the future of Paulman Farms, “I'm excited now. I have a couple of grandsons that would be potentially fifth generation here on the farm. Pretty exciting!” When small farmers like Roric succeed, small rural communities thrive.