Today at the Iowa State Fair, five farm families from within the Boone River Watershed will be among the 67 farmers to receive the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award from Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Secretary Bill Northey, and Iowa Department of Natural Resources Chuck Gipp. They are: Bryan and James B. Claude of Wright County; Tom and Kimra Larson, who farm in Hamilton, Webster and Wright counties; Tim and Lana Smith of Wright County; Arlo and Claudia Van Diest of Hamilton County; and Delmer Voss, who farms in Wright and Webster counties.
These five farmers have worked with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Iowa Soybean Association, local soil and water conservation districts, Agriculture's Clean Water Alliance, and The Nature Conservancy in employing practices that keep valuable soil and fertilizers on farm fields and out of streams, where it degrades water quality.
The actions of these farmers as well as the other 62 award recipients benefit recreational industries that provide jobs and generate taxes because of clean streams and the fish, waterfowl and other wildlife these rivers support. The practices they implement also benefit people who get their water from these streams or the rivers and reservoirs into which they flow. And eventually, the efforts of these farmers help improve the health of the Gulf of Mexico, which supports economies vital to this nation.
But there is even a bigger picture. Iowa does more than help feed this nation. Our farmers help feed a growing world. It's estimated some 7 billion people inhabit Earth today, and its predicted that number could soar to 9 billion as early as 2050.
It's clear that we face an incredible challenge of feeding people today and into the future without destroying the very resources that sustain us all. Key to overcoming this challenge is increasing production on existing farmlands. And there are huge opportunities to do just this, especially in developing countries where the efficiency of agriculture can be improved through innovative practices such as new crop varieties, better tillage practices and smarter uses of fertilizers.
So maybe the most important thing these farmers provide are lessons we can now export to other producers throughout North America and around the globe. Lessons that show the potential to maintain or increase food and fiber production while protecting the environment and without clearing new lands.
In Iowa and across the nation, most of the farmers who implement environmental practices are able to do so because of funding from conservation programs in the U.S. Farm Bill, which is up for reauthorization this year and is currently being debated by Congress.
I applaud these deserving farmers who are helping provide solutions to what might be mankind's greatest challenge yet. And I'm thankful our government recognizes how the environment affects our society and our economy and that it invests in viable solutions for agriculture that benefit the lives of U.S. citizens and people around the globe.
I also encourage you to show support for these hard-working and innovative farmers and their families.
Sean McMahon, one of 10 individuals on the selection committee for the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award, is the director of The Nature Conservancy's North American Agriculture.