Steve Ford gives a lesson in sustainable agriculture on Capitol Hill

Sixteen years ago, farmer Steve Ford left his job as a tenured agricultural economics professor at Penn State to join his wife, Beth Pride, on her family farm in northwest Alabama. Beth Pride’s family had been long-time advocates of no-till farming, and five years ago when she and Ford began farming on their own, they readily embraced conservation practices like using cover crops. They have also recently put plans in place to begin transitioning to organic farming. Last week, Ford left his busy life as a farmer and visiting associate professor of economics at Sewanee to join the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) in advocating for Congressional support of the federal conservation programs upon which his farm relies.

“Our whole approach to farming is about putting soil health first,” said Ford. “We know that creating good soil ecology will result in long-term improved yields and profitability. We depend on programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) to help us make that investment in our future and the future of our land.”

The Fords grow wheat, corn, and soybeans on about 1,200 acres in Lawrence County, Alabama. For several years they have utilized funds from CSP to help them bring enhanced conservation practices to their operation.

“In our last CSP contract we used the funds to plant a cover crop mix of cereal rye and crimson clover, which help us build productive soil and control pests and diseases,” said Ford. “We were also able to plant legumes, which means we can rely less on using chemicals to restore the nitrogen to our soil.”

CSP is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s largest conservation program, providing comprehensive conservation assistance to producers who actively manage and expand conservation activities like cover crops, resource-conserving crop rotations, rotational grazing, integrated pest management, and advanced nutrient management. Cuts to CSP appropriations are on the table in Congress.

“We’re thankful to have some great farmer and rancher representatives who are willing to leave their busy lives and come to D.C. to speak to Congress about what these programs mean to them and for their businesses,” said NSAC Policy Director Ferd Hoefner. Along with staff from NSAC, Ford met with Congressman Robert B. Aderholt (AL-04) to urge him to stand against any proposed cuts to CSP.