America’s Farmers and Ranchers: Our Original Conservationists

Earlier today, I was in Fresno, California in the San Joaquin Valley meeting with farmers—and even got to drive around a clean fuel burning tractor. One of my first trips as Administrator was to the Iowa State Fair, where the pork chop came in second only to the Iowan farmers I met. Since then, I’ve also traveled to Missouri and Indiana, attending agriculture roundtables to hear directly from local growers. In the meantime, my Deputy, Bob Perciasepe traveled to Louisiana to visit with farmers there. And when I can’t get to them on their farms, I make sure farmers can get to me. So when organizations like the National Farmers Union visit Washington, D.C., I make a point to try to visit with them, just like I did earlier this fall.

Administrator Gina McCarthy on a farm tour at Melkonian Brothers Ranch in Fresno, California

Administrator Gina McCarthy driving a cleaner fuel burning tractor in the San Joaquin Valley, California

EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment depends in part on our relationships and partnerships with farmers and ranchers. We share a concern about the quality of air, water, and land that nourish the food, fiber, and fuel they grow and that support their livelihoods and the livelihoods of their families. In so many ways, agriculture issues are EPA issues.

As critical as they are to our economy, I’ve often considered our farmers to be our original conservationists safeguarding our environment. Agriculture in America paints a clear picture of why commonsense environmental protections are essential for sustainable economic growth and safer public health.  For instance, poor air quality in places like the San Joaquin Valley can not only hurt the growth rate of crops, but also drive up high rates of childhood asthma, respiratory disease, and other health risks.

Our changing climate poses a new set of challenges for all of us, and our farmers have been hit especially hard. It’s a fact that 2012 was the second costliest year for natural disasters in American history, with a price tag of $110 billion. Those costs weigh heavily on farmers and ranchers whose lands and livestock suffered from the most devastating droughts seen in a generation, followed by a super wet spring, and most recently, by a freakishly strong early winter storm in South Dakota.

That’s why acting on climate change is so important, and why EPA is committed to doing our part under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. In addition to curbing the harmful carbon pollution fueling climate change, we’re helping cities, towns—and our farms—become more  resilient to climate impacts, so we can protect people, livelihoods, and our economy.  For example, we’re helping small towns and rural communities improve water infrastructure to better manage our precious water resources, while dealing with stormwater and runoff that affect agricultural productivity.

Drought resilience is also critical. That’s why the President launched the National Drought Resilience Partnership to focus on preparedness rather than just response to drought impacts. Among many things, it means better water resource planning, aligning drought polices across agencies, coordinating on soil moisture monitoring, and linking multiple streams of forecasting data.

At EPA, we remain committed to making a difference in families’ lives through supporting rural communities across the country in a variety of ways.

For example, we’re active in supporting small businesses through grant programs promoting sustainable technology development. Many of those grants invest in small towns and rural communities that are leading our sustainable energy and environmental innovations.

Through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, we’re working with our partners at USDA and other federal agencies to find ways to promote more sustainable, livable communities—and rural America is a part of that picture. In addition, we recently released a proposed rule to set renewable fuels standards for 2014.  It remains incumbent on everyone to comment on the proposal and help EPA develop the best path forward to retain this important program for our farmers who are busy growing the crops that can fuel a nation.

From air quality in Fresno, CA, to water quality in Indiana, to addressing climate change nationwide, EPA’s partnership with America’s farmers and ranchers has never been more important.

Together, we can confront challenges and seize the environmental and agricultural opportunities we face—and leave our children a safer, healthier, more sustainable future as responsible stewards of our environment.

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