Earth Day is Every Day for Farmers


Earth Day is recognized by the UN and most of the world’s countries this Saturday, April 22. It coincides with planting season in the northern hemisphere, just like Easter.

Yet we must remember that both holidays are about more than a single day. What we do on the other 364 days of the year also matters.

The Christian holiday is always on a Sunday in the spring, with its precise date determined by the phase of the moon. This year it came on April 9 and next year it will fall on March 31. Earth Day, by contrast, is on a fixed date: April 22. The two days rarely align, and the last time they did was way back in 1984, when I was a farm student in Scotland. I may not be around to enjoy the next time they do. It’s scheduled for 2057!

I expect my grandchildren to see their convergence, though. So far, we have three, including a newborn. They live by the farm and visit often.

Our family’s heritage in Denmark goes back to the 16th century. My ancestors and I have celebrated a lot of Easters on this land. Earth Day is a much newer holiday, first observed in 1970 in California. Denmark has officially celebrated this day since sometime in the nineties to honor the environment and its conservation.

To farm well, however, we must practice its principles year-round—and a farm like ours doesn’t stay in business across generations unless the men and women who work it also tend to the earth beneath our feet.

The soil is the foundation of our livelihood. Protecting it is our obligation. We need it not only for this year’s food production, but also for the future of farming—and for the whole ecosystem. Without healthy soil, nothing can live.

We have another obligation, too: We must make the most of what we have, investing our labor, intelligence, and technology into the farm so that it produces as much food as possible. This requires constant adaptation. This month, for example, we changed the way we establish our spring crops. Because our spring barley has struggled in our cold climate and often wet soils, we’re cultivating ahead of planting with a straw harrow to heat up the surface of the soil and a direct drill to place fertilizer, followed by the grain in exactly the places where our crops need it.

Our goal is to grow a better crop. I’m hopeful that this new approach will work, but only time will tell—and we’ll adjust as necessary. Spring is a time renewal, and we’re always renewing our approach to farming as we discover and apply innovations to agriculture. In the years ahead, I expect to see advances in precision technology that will improve both productivity and conservation.

The benefits of precision technology are significant. The growing possibilities for more effective ways to apply the inputs our crops require not only increase our efficiency but also minimize the environmental impact – an important Earth Day fact!

My grandparents would recognize our land, but not our methods, which would amaze them. Yet I know they would approve because they would appreciate that our yields are bigger than any that came before us. This bounty is good for farmers whose income relies on production, consumers who need affordable food, and the conservation in general because we’re doing more with less.

I don’t know if my grandchildren will carry on the family tradition of farming. The older ones certainly enjoy the thrill of tractor rides and playing in the workshop. Yet a life in agriculture is difficult and demanding. They don’t yet know what it means, or how it calls for self-sacrifice and long hours. Many years, we even work on Easter because it’s during planting season and we can’t lose even a single day.

My own children have chosen different kinds of work. While I wish more young people wanted to take up farming, I rejoice to live in a world in which they have so many other options. A blessing of modern agriculture is that it takes a lot fewer people to grow the food we need. This trend probably will continue, as long as we remain open to innovation.

An important goal for agriculture is to acknowledge and show that this is an attractive career of choice for future generations.

That may be the best way for farmers to celebrate Earth Day: Devoting ourselves to growing as much food as possible, and to using the best technologies to help us do it in a sustainable way so that future generations can join us as responsible stewards of the land.

Knud Bay-Smidt

Knud Bay-Smidt

Knud was raised on a 4th generation family farm. After college, he started his own farm in 1987 which is a purely arable farm, based on a No-Till system. He grows wheat, barley, oat and oilseed rape. From 1990-2010, he purchased and exported ag machinery to 12 countries in Europe, Africa, South and Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Now he is a freelance sales agent of No-Till machinery. At present, he is also studying the impact of agriculture on the nearby environment at a School of Applied Sciences.

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