By Jon Scholl

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

The energy and attention surrounding our nation’s fiscal future highlights the importance of a collaborative environment. Inevitably, federal budget decisions will impact the policies and programs that help protect America’s farm and ranch land. To strengthen the future of farms and the local communities and economies they support, and to ensure a sustainable and healthy future, movement forward will require a broader movement together.

It is in this spirit that American Farmland Trust has partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Foundation NFP to host the National Agricultural Landscapes Forum. For two days in April, agricultural, conservation, environmental, land use and rural development thought-leaders from across the country will engage in a vigorous discussion about how to improve agricultural conservation policies and outcomes in the context of tight budgets, competing interests, rapid technological change and innovation. Guided by a blue ribbon panel of authorities in agriculture and conservation, the dialogue will generate information and insights aimed at supporting agriculture as a critical and viable component of the nation’s landscape and ensuring the sustainable use of key natural resources on which our nation depends.

The forum comes at an especially important time because our nation’s economic future is inextricably linked to the health of its landscapes. A key take-away, for me, from this year’s Ag Outlook Forum came by way of the USDA’s chief economist’s overview on the current strength of our nation’s farm economy. Joseph Glauber’s analysis reminded me of the important link between prosperous rural economies and the need for adequate supply of well managed farmland in this country to sustainably meet the growing demand for food.

The bright forecast included record predictions for agricultural exports and an increase in farm incomes. The predicted rise in export demand means more acres will need to be dedicated to farming – a 9.8 million acre increase from 2010 in major field crops alone, which includes wheat, corn, and soybeans. Therefore, the challenge rests in ensuring that there is enough land to sustainably meet the demand when America has been losing more than an acre of farm and ranch land every minute to development. In this sense, the immediacy of ensuring a strong economic future for agriculture is dependent on protecting our nation’s farm and ranch land.

The true outlook for our nation’s farmland relies on the work we do together. It will require linking the current economic landscape of the farm economy to the physical landscapes that are home to natural resources and farmland. Reaching outside of agriculture in order to build these bridges is equally as important. Through opportunities like the National Agricultural Landscapes Forum, we can develop strong networks of collaboration to ensure a healthy future for us all as we move forward together.

About the author: Jon Scholl became the President of American Farmland Trust in July 2008, after serving as Counselor to the Administrator for Agricultural Policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 2004. At the EPA, Scholl led the development of the first National Agricultural Strategy, first agricultural advisory committee and the first agency-wide cross media agriculture team. He also helped direct agency regulations on animal feeding operations, renewable fuel standards, clean air rules, and emission reporting requirements. In 2007, Scholl provided counsel to the USDA farm bill team on conservation provisions.

Prior to his work at the U.S. EPA, Scholl was Executive Assistant to the President of the Illinois Farm Bureau, among other positions including Director of Public Policy, Director of National Legislation, and Director of Natural Resources. Scholl also worked at the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

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