earth day | thank a farmer
What better way to celebrate and honor Earth Day than to share some insight from a true subject-matter expert, a farmer. They likely are not the first people you think of when you hear the buzz word "sustainability", but their daily lives, family, future and financial survival all depend on a healthy earth. That means they depend on us.
I chatted with my stepdad and favorite farmer, Jimmy Champion, to shed some light on what Earth Day means to this industry, to this farmer. As someone that grew up in the mecca of rural farming in Georgia, it feels like serendipity that I moved all over the US to end up working for Cummins - a company that helps power, highlight and drive appreciation for this industry.
The Cummins Powers South Sales and Services location in my hometown (Albany, Ga) that I passed all my life and never knew it was there or the tie to Indiana.
Celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Cummins (at the global headquarters in Columbus, IN) as an employee for the global distribution headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana.
When I see the stories, successes and struggles of farmers highlighted by a global brand like Cummins, I feel inspired that products are developed to meet the true needs of hardworking people. Plus, it gave me some great leverage in my interview to mention we have a Cummins engine in our (Jimmy's) Shockwave pecan shaker and that meant I was technically-kind-of-sort-of a customer (and we all know customers are always right). Enough about me, let's talk to a farmer.
Jimmy owns and operates Champion Groves, a southwest Georgia farm that produces 1,500 acres of cotton, pecans, peanuts and corn. You drive down GA300 (you've probably seen the exit if you've ever driven 75 to Florida) past plantations, sprawling horse pastures with white fences and pine trees as tall as you can see. You still have to drive a dirt road to reach the farm - one that was once covered in the most beautiful oak trees, but is now bare due to the nasty aftermath of a tornado and hurricane in recent years.
Global warming and/or climate change, perhaps?
This was the entrance to the farm before the devastation.
This is the exact same spot after the devastation.
Q: How long have you been a farmer?
A: I have spent 50 years operating the farm, but it has been owned by the family for three generations.
Q: What did you study in college?
A: *Laughs* History and Political Science
Q: Why did you choose farming for your career?
A: After I came home from the Army, I was tired of school and wanted to work. I enjoyed being on the land and watching things grow. Also, the mechanics of the equipment were interesting to me and I enjoyed learning how to use them and what they did. I had an opportunity with a man who wanted to become more active in farming than the fertilizer business, so I took it.
Q: Do you feel the environment has improved or declined during your 50 year career?
A: Most definitely improved with sustainability efforts and emission standards.
Q: Soil is, arguably, a farmers most valuable tool. What are a few ways pollution affects soil?
A: There are so many different types of pollutants - some have very temporary effects because they dilute and are not detectable over time. Others, like heavy metals, can stay in the soil for a long time. This is more of an industrial issue than farming.
Q: How have extreme weather conditions in recent years affected your crops and income?
A: A tornado that hit in 2017 caused a loss of 1,365 pecan trees and 125,000 pine trees. Hurricane Michael in 2018 caused a loss of 450 more pecan trees and a total loss of our cotton crop that year. The pecan trees have been replanted, but it takes about 10 years to produce a profitable crop after planting.
*You can watch this video to hear Jimmy share more about the devastating affects of these two events and see the impact on Champion Groves for yourself. *
Q: I am sure it is hard to select just one, but can you share a few of the most challenging things about farming, besides weather?
A: Finding and receiving the right financing. This affects many things, but especially labor. I need skilled employees that can operate complex machinery and I need to be able to pay those employees for their ability and time.
Q: Is there anything else you feel is important to share?
A: While a controversial topic, one of the main things that has helped with pollution / sustainability is the development of GMOs. It allows us to use a lot less chemicals than before – planting these items reduces the need for insecticides and pesticides. It's important to note this does not save farmers money because we pay for the technology associated.
Q: In closing, what is your favorite thing about farming?
A: That's easy. Watching things grow.
My Mom and Jimmy
The mission of Earth Day is to keep the conversation going and encourage everyone to be good stewards of land and the environment. In agriculture, being good stewards of such is imperative to the continued success of farmers. To these men and women that produce crucial items for human existence - everyday is earth day.
Have you thanked a farmer today?
Additional insight from Business Insider:
In 2018 there were just over 2 million farms in the US.
Two of the most lucrative positions in the farming industry are agricultural economists who forecast trends and agriculture lawyers who cover proper land use and environmental protections.
There are over 50,000 jobs available in agriculture, per year, in the US, but not enough qualified candidates to fill the spots.
The farming industry contributes more than $100 billion to the US economy.
Extreme weather is the cause of 90% of the crop losses in the US.
The farming industries greatest threats are climate change and trade wars.
Another interview by Jimmy Champion for Growing America
I'd like to say a special thank you to you, Jimmy. For putting good food on our tables, soft clothes on our backs and preserving your part of this earth. You are one of the hardest working men I've known in a thankless industry and I'd just like to say....thank you.