More than 70 percent of U.S. farmers and ranchers have taken steps toward implementing sustainable agriculture practices, a survey by one of the nation’s largest agricultural lenders has found.

With Earth Day approaching, Rabobank decided to take a look at what farmers and ranchers are doing to conserve the nation’s resources and reduce their dependence on farm chemicals and non-renewable energy sources.

“Sustainability is an increasing priority among consumers as well as for many areas of industry and commerce, and this survey shows that U.S. farmers and ranchers share that view,” said John Ryan, president and CEO for Rabo AgriFinance. ”Sustainable agricultural practices are the cornerstone of long-term strategy for success.”

According to Rabobank Farm & Ranch Survey, three out of every four U.S. farmers are aware of sustainable practices, and most have used direct or no-till seeding, minimized the use of chemicals or employed crop rotation.

“For our farmers and ranchers in California, the use of alternative energy sources can be a matter of survival,” said Aitor Ezcurra, executive vice president and head of commercial banking for Rabobank, N.A. ”Energy and water resources are limited and costly, so the development and employment of sustainable energy sources in agriculture is a smart business practice as well as beneficial to the environment.”

The Rabobank survey found:

In the North Central and South regions, higher-revenue farms (more than $1 million annually) have taken steps toward sustainable agriculture (North Central: 89 percent vs. 67 percent of lower-revenue farms; South: 97 percent vs. 65 percent lower-revenue farms).

The opposite is true for farms in the West. More lower-revenue farms have moved toward sustainable agriculture (74 percent vs. 51 percent for farms with revenues exceeding $1 million).

Direct seeding is more prevalent in the South and North Central (64 percent and 61 percent respectively vs. 44 percent in the West). It is also more prevalent among large acreage farms (75 percent for 1,000 acres or more vs. 52 percent for less than 1,000 acres).

Reduction of energy use is more prevalent in the West (45 percent) compared to North Central (29 percent).

The study was conducted to gauge farmers’ confidence among target farming regions in the United States. An independent survey company conducted 458 computer-assisted telephone interviews from Feb. 2-11, 2009. The survey targeted farmers who own or operate a farm grossing $250,000 or more in one of three U.S. census regions: Midwest, South and West. Additionally, a baseline survey was conducted, but not released in 2008, and is used as comparison for this survey.