Every day is Earth Day for farmers! Have you heard this line before? What does it mean?

A little girl is holding a hose that is adding water to a water trough for two brown, dairy calves.

Our world’s surface is 71% covered by water. All the water that leaves our farm travels into local creeks and streams and eventually enters the mighty Mississippi. The sustainability practices we implement all year ultimately protect that shared water resource.

Here are a few things we do every season on our farm to celebrate Earth Day every day and be a sustainable part of our community.

Since Earth Day is in the spring, this is a good place to start. Right now, across the Midwest, farmers are gearing up for spring planting. All annual crops like corn, soybeans, oats and sorghum Sudan grass are planted in the springtime. 

Our cows and other livestock produce manure throughout the year. Manure is a nutrient-rich fertilizer that helps our crops grow. We take the manure fertilizer to the fields and before planting, we use minimally invasive tillage, or as my dad likes to call it, “stirring the dirt a little bit!” Stirring the manure into the soil creates a nice seed bed for the crops we plant.

On fields that don’t receive manure fertilizer, we sometimes use no-till which helps reduce water runoff and build soil biology. We also plant areas of pollinator habitat for the insects that help pollinate our crops.

A field with alternating contour strips along a hillside.
Contour strips

On many farms, including ours, spring is a busy time for babies! In March alone, we had 37 calves born. We also welcome baby pigs and chicks to our farm in the spring. Whether it be animals or crops, we celebrate sustainability with new life in the springtime!

During summer we are busy harvesting forages that will feed our cows throughout the winter. We also spend time tending the pastures and moving heifers to fresh grass to prevent overgrazing. The crops are growing fast, and everything on the farm is green!

While driving in the rural Wisconsin countryside, have you noticed the alternating strips of corn and soybeans? These are called contours. Each strip acts like a retaining wall and prevents erosion by holding the water and soil in place in each field. 

Autumn seems like the closing of a chapter for the year as crops are harvested and everything is changing colors. In my opinion, this is the most exciting time for sustainability when it comes to crops. I love planting cover crops after harvesting corn for silage and watching the diverse mixtures of plants grow and create a blanket of green cover over the soil and living roots in the soil. These plants also protect the soil from wind erosion in the winter and water erosion as snow melts in the spring.

A stream of water runs between two farm fields. The fields are grassy with pasture.

During winter, we pray for a layer of snow for insulation for the crops. Winter requires extra care for animals, too. Farmers are the ultimate recyclers. We use the stalks or stems from the grain plants we grow as bedding to keep our cattle warm and dry all winter long. These recycled plants also mix with the animals’ manure to create a wonderful fertilizer for our crops for the next growing season. Some of the crops we harvest are fermented in giant plastic bags and stored until winter. The used plastic is picked up by a recycling company and made into garbage bags.

While there is only one Earth Day on the calendar each year, farmers spend the whole year finding ways to be sustainable. Sustainability can be defined as two words- alive and healthy. We use living plants and healthy animals to sustain soil life, vibrant clear waters and a healthy planet. Healthy animals, healthy crops, healthy people and healthy finances make everyday Earth Day for farmers.