As the world’s population grows, demand for food, feed, fiber and energy does, too.
Agriculture around the world will need to increase production while staying environmentally responsible. How? Well, some folks are thinking and talking about that.
Farm Foundation’s Solutions from the Land project released its first report "Developing a New Vision for United States Agriculture, Forestry, and Conservation" during a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. last month.
A.G. Kawamura is former California secretary of agriculture. He is a third generation fruit and vegetable grower and shipper from Orange County, too, and is co-chair of Solutions From the Land. He said the basic idea for the project and report is to set all aspects of agriculture and land-use enterprises on a path together to mutual economic growth and environmental sustainability.
“For far too long we’ve had decades of silos, or working in or from individual silos. Now in the 20th century, we can start to merge and come up with solutions together,” Kawamura said.
The report took three years to compile and includes the thoughts of leaders in agriculture, forestry and conservation to identify land challenges today and in the years ahead.
The basic challenges?
• Limited available land;
• Conflicting policies and the lack of reward for conservation practices;
• Research investment;
• Climate change;
• And producer risks.
Participating on the panel were SFL co-chair Tom Lovejoy, Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment; Larkin Martin, Martin Farms, Courtland, Ala.; Cassie Phillips, Weyerhaeuser Corporation, Federal Way, Wash.; and Patrick O'Toole, Ladder Livestock Company, LLC, Savery, Wyo. Charlie Stenholm, former U.S. Representative from Texas, moderated the panel discussion.
Any plan must provide economic sustainability for producers and the SFL strategy does, said Martin, who manages the diversified Martin Farms in Courtland, Ala. She gave the row-crop production view of the report and its implementation strategy.
Technology is the pivotal component to food security in the future and economic viability for farmers now, she said. “On our farmer, there have been profound changes in how we farm (in the last two decades), technically driven with precision farming such as computers and GIS systems to specifically put things where they are needed versus broadcast application. This requires more work technically, and new skill levels are required,” she said.
GMO crops have led to much more environmentally sound production practices on her farm, limiting pesticide applications and decreasing erosion due to less tillage. Leveraging such technology to increase global food production is essential.
Environmentally sound practices now make more economic sense for farmers and can lead to higher yields or economic returns, but not always. Advancements in production agriculture and farmers’ willingness and position as stewards of the land need to be recognized by regulatory agencies as not in conflict with but as partners for sustainable food production. “Progress instead of perfection,” she said, and something that needs to be rewarded.
Another crucial step in long-term farm solutions is the next generation’s involvement in it. After years of farm exodus, the younger generation is looking to stay on the farm. With relatively high commodity prices now, this is possible, she said. And the next generation’s technical training and knowledge applied to future farms “is very exciting,” she said.
“To take care of the land and produce food now, we have to do a bunch of things, including environmental things. But it is tough to do when you watch (farming) neighbors fall off the table. Expectations must be reasonable for the one percent of us doing the job,” O’Toole said.