Farm Foundation Forum outlines collaborative vision for agriculture

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 6, 2013- During a Farm Foundation Forum today, Former California Secretary of Agriculture, A.G. Kawamura, led a discussion about the collaboration, research and diversity needed within agriculture and forestry to “get ourselves into the 21st Century in a collective way.”

Solutions From the Land (SFL) released a new report titled, "Developing a New Vision for United States Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation." Kawamura said the report is the result of a three-year process that created a framework of “where we'd like to go in the future” in terms of embracing biodiversity and land management tools as well as scaling back regulations to achieve the production needed for a booming global population.

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The paper is designed to outline “land management challenges and proposes a vision for producing more agricultural and forestry products and ecosystem services with fewer inputs and environmental impacts.”

Further, “the goal is to draw experienced and well-networked agricultural, forestry, and land management leaders into conversations about solutions that can realistically be delivered from the land,” it states.

SFL co-chair Tom Lovejoy, of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, served as the climate change expert at the Forum, where he said restoring carbon to the soil rather than leaking it is vital to increasing fertility.

Larkin Martin, of Martin Farms, Courtland, Ala., described the report as “visionary” and appreciated the recognition of a need for intensification of production on existing fertile land. She said “finding ways to do that well with minimal inputs or minimal degradation of environmental systems is the key.”

Martin described her farm, which grows cotton, corn, wheat and soybeans, and the benefits technology brought to her production. She pinpointed precision farming, GMO seeds and data management as technological transformations that “allowed us to be much more environmentally friendly.” For example, glysophate tolerant crops prevent her from having to plow to control weeds, which caused erosion and runoff in the past. Martin also noted that “data management on the farm is about to explode. From where I'm sitting, technology is going to be key.”

She also described her disappointment in the split between organic and local food movements and the rest of production agriculture. “I think there's great wisdom in organic principles being applied to production agriculture,” she said.

“It's all of this coming together to figure out how to produce more on the same land wisely,” Martin said. “My hope is that these conversations will pull some middle ground, because I think there's a lot of middle ground.”

Patrick O'Toole, of the Ladder Livestock Company, LLC, in Savery, Wyo., said the innovations are “being held back” by an “archaic” federal process.

“If we're expected to have 70 percent more food in the next decades it's going to be because we've overcome the fact that we're losing farmers and ranchers and we're losing land and water,” he said. “How do we take the intellectual into the tangible? How do we take these ideas and put them on the ground?”

Kawamura added that regulations have played their part, but are now not in line with the needs for agriculture's future. “It's ok to have zeal and good intentions, but let's find the resources or solutions to make that happen,” he said. Farm Foundation Forum moderator Charlie Stenholm said that change should not come from a top-down Washington approach.

Stenholm said differing, extreme opinions within agriculture, particularly in the current political atmosphere, are barriers to implementing solutions. He concluded, “Compromise has to be there and we are nowhere close to getting that compromise, but we're closer than we were yesterday.”

To view the SFL report, click here.

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