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I met a good farmer today: How land ethic shapes our future

man looking out over a field

I met a good farmer today. In recollection, I don’t think I’ve ever met a bad farmer, but this encounter was different. Immediately we hit it off. The conversation turned from the windbreak I came to look at to our former dogs. We talked about marriage and kids. It seemed like I had known this guy my whole life. The conversation came easy.

He had just taken a break from spraying to meet up with me to take a look at what seemed to be spider mite damage to his spruce windbreak. He had first noticed the damage last fall. The dry weather has promoted spruce spider mite populations and the current drought this spring of 2023 continues from last fall when our evergreens went into winter in a water deficit.

Stressed corn in early June of 2023
It may be dry, but this corn is suffering from getting sprayed by the wrong herbicide. Of course the drought doesn't help.
Managing pesticide drift

Examining the spruce as we narrowed it down to spider mite damage, I asked about the possibility of herbicide drift from the field. This farmer was one step ahead of me. He did everything he could to keep the chemical on the field. He used proper nozzles, low boom height, slow speed, and an eye on the weather. We chatted about the damage we had both seen over the years from herbicide drift. Many farmers contract out pesticide applications to larger companies. It is an industry much like a lawn care business. A lawn care company has a certain number of lawns assigned to the truck. Usually too many. And to meet the demand for all the lawns, the applicator must be quick. Whether you’re dealing with acres of lawn or square miles of farm fields, rushing the job creates bad habits and inevitably mistakes.

Water and soil conservation


From the windbreak, we went to take a look at some ailing maples next to a large pond. The farmer told me the story of how his father dug out this pond and he swam in it as a kid. Today his grandkids swim and fish in this same pond.

I asked about chemical runoff and if that was ever a concern. He described his stormwater management strategy and how much care he takes in managing the waterways of the property. Water and soil conservation are paramount to the future of agriculture, and this farmer knew it. He lamented on the poor farming practices mainly the corporate-owned ag companies that look to production on an annual basis and not through to the next generation. One example given was the traffic of equipment in waterways and sometimes the complete removal of vegetation that once kept sediment on the field and now silts in surface water downstream and causes algae blooms from nutrient runoff.

Speaking with this farmer I heard the pride in his voice as he talked of his clean water and healthy soils. I could see a strong land ethic both within him and around him on the land that he stewards. Aldo Leopold, who coined the term land ethic describes it as:

“A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.”

This farmer intends to hand over this land to a future generation and has worked hard to preserve the health of the land. We have lost many things in this world that can only be read about in history books and told in stories. This farmer is making sure deep healthy soil, diverse wildlife, and a cool dip in a pond on a hot summer day aren’t things of the past, but of the future. I met a good farmer today and it made me hopeful that things can be made better.

Good Growing Tip of the Week: Want to learn more about land ethic and how we can work to conserve our agriculture and natural areas? Illinois Extension will be hosting Master Naturalist training for Henderson, Knox, McDonough, and Warren counties this fall of 2023. Contact your local Extension office to sign up.

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Chris Enroth is a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Henderson, McDonough, Knox, and Warren counties since 2012. Chris provides horticulture programming with an emphasis on the home gardener, landscape maintenance personnel, and commercial landscapers. Additional responsibilities include coordinating local county Master Gardener and Master Naturalist volunteers - providing their training, continuing education, advanced training, seasonal events, and organizing community outreach programs for horticulture and conservation assistance/education. In his spare time, Chris enjoys the outdoors, lounging in the garden among the flowers (weeds to most).