Corn, conservation and community
Fri, Mar 13 2009 at 3:35 PM
By The Nature Conservancy
By Sherry Crawley
During a recent trip to southwest Georgia, I stood in the middle of a field and ate an ear of raw, sweet corn. That sweltering afternoon I realized how conservation ties everyone together, both at a local and a global level.
Glenn Cox picked that ear of corn for me. Cox, a fifth-generation farmer, grows peanuts, field corn and sweet corn on his land outside Camilla. During a trip to the Conservancy's Lower Flint River Basin Project, several of my colleagues and I visited with Cox while his sweet corn crop was harvested.
Feeding the world
Sweet corn is intended for human consumption so it is harvested by hand to avoid being damaged by machinery. I watched each ear go from stalk to neatly packaged boxes ready for shipment, destined for our barbecues and low country boils.
It takes a lot of water to grow that corn. A common sight in southwest Georgia, center-pivot irrigation systems bring water to the crops. An enormous steel arm moves in a circular motion across expansive fields, spraying water from equally spaced nozzles.
Many farmers, including Cox, have installed nozzles that drop water closer to the ground and at a lower pressure. This decreases the amount of water lost to evaporation and more closely mimics natural rainfall. Farmers understand that to feed the world’s growing population, conservation and technology must play an increasing role in agriculture. In the end, efficient irrigation practices lead to lower production costs for the farmer and sustainable water resources for future generations.
A unique collaboration of partners, from the Conservancy to federal and state agencies, academic institutions and local community groups, are helping farmers in southwest Georgia conserve water by testing, promoting and implementing technologies like the low-pressure drop nozzles.
Agriculture is the foundation of the local community
Cox watched the harvest of his sweet corn crop and explained that even though their crops are shipped far and wide, farmers in southwest Georgia keep the local economy moving, too. Their businesses create jobs, and those workers spend their money in local stores and restaurants. Their children go to area schools, run with the tax dollars collected on properties like his.
The relationship goes both ways. Farmers depend on their community for specific resources such as an abundance of clean, fresh water. They rely on their neighbors to use water efficiently. They need their local and state lawmakers to enact policies that encourage smart water use.
Conservation is a collective responsibility
Today’s farmers do not fit antiquated stereotypes. They are sophisticated business people, acutely aware of the juxtaposition between technology, agriculture and economics at both a local and global scale. Our local actions do have a global impact. Farmers are using water to grow the crops that feed the world and maintain functioning communities, a responsibility they do not take lightly.
The next time you pick up an ear of corn at the grocery store or farmer’s market, consider the labor, resources and technology required to grow those milky kernels. I’ll think of Glenn Cox and remember the glimpse I got of how we are all intrinsically tied together by the land and that we share a collective obligation to take care of the resources we need to sustain our existence.
MNN is working with The Nature Conservancy to bring you state-by-state environmental information.