Report: Farmers Need ‘To Evolve’ To Meet New Challenges

U.S. farmers are under pressure to produce more, pollute less, fulfill consumer preferences, and make a living — all with increasingly scarce natural resources and the uncertain effects of climate change, says a new report from the National Research Council. To help U.S. agriculture evolve to meet these demands, the report concludes, national agricultural policies and research programs should look beyond focusing only on low costs and high production and adopt a holistic perspective to farming that encompasses multiple end goals.

"Although farming productivity has increased, nowadays farmers are being asked to do more than produce more food for a growing world population," says Julia Kornegay, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and professor and head of the department of horticultural science at North Carolina State University, Raleigh. "Many modern agricultural practices have unintended negative consequences, such as decreased water and air quality, and farmers have to consider these consequences while trying to increase production. If farmers are going to meet future demands, the U.S. agriculture system has to evolve to become sustainable and think broadly — past the bottom line of producing the most possible."

Farmers in the U.S. have become more efficient producers. For instance, in 2008 farm output was 158 percent higher than it was in 1948, and farmers today are producing more food with less energy per unit output than 50 years ago. However, U.S. agriculture has external costs that are mostly unaccounted for in productivity measurements, the report says. For example, water tables have declined markedly in some agricultural areas, and pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers and pesticides have infiltrated surface water and rivers, creating oxygen-starved zones in waterways. The agricultural sector also is the largest contributor of two greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide and methane, in the U.S.

Additionally, the committee found that farmers face other challenges, such as consumer concerns about the treatment of farm animals and food safety. Farmers’ income is also not keeping up with rising production costs, primarily due to the higher prices of external inputs such as seeds, fuel, and synthetic fertilizer. More than half of U.S. farm operators work off the farm to supplement their income and to obtain health care and retirement benefit plans.

To help achieve a sustainable agriculture system that looks beyond the end goal of providing more goods, the committee identified four goals that should be considered simultaneously:

  1. satisfy human food, fiber, and feed requirements, and contribute to biofuels needs;
  2. enhance environmental quality and the resource base;
  3. maintain the economic viability of agriculture; and
  4. improve the quality of life for farmers, farm workers, and society as a whole.

The committee emphasized that achieving a balance of the four goals, and creating systems that can adapt to fluctuating conditions, are hallmarks of greater sustainability. Achieving the goals will require long-term research, education, outreach, and experimentation by the public and private sectors in partnership with farmers. Moreover, two parallel and overlapping approaches — one incremental and one transformative — could help meet these goals, the committee proposed. The incremental approach would expand ongoing endeavors to create farming practices that improve sustainability, regardless of size or type of farming system. The transformative approach would bring together multiple disciplines of research to identify and design a vision for a balanced agricultural system.

Although the report lays out a framework toward attaining sustainable farming systems, the report stresses that farmers’ decisions to employ new practices are influenced by external forces, such as science, markets, public policies, land tenure arrangements, and their own values, knowledge, skills, and resources. The committee said that efforts to promote widespread adoption of different farming practices and systems would require knowing how individual, household, farm, and regional characteristics affect farmers’ response to incentives and disincentives.

The report was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are independent, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under an 1863 congressional charter. Committee members, who serve pro bono as volunteers, are chosen by the Academies for each study based on their expertise and experience and must satisfy the Academies’ conflict-of-interest standards. The resulting consensus reports undergo external peer review before completion.

For more information, click here.

Leave a Reply

Latest News
Management3 Financial Trends To Watch In Agriculture
January 17, 2017
I recently had the opportunity to attend a meeting of credit managers for Midwest ag supply and input companies, in part Read More
Andersons Retail Store
CropLife 100The Andersons To Close All Retail Stores; Shutdown Does…
January 16, 2017
In a stunning announcement to the Toledo area, The Andersons Inc. said on Sunday that it would close its two Read More
Trimble TMX-2050 In-Cab Display
Eric SfiligojPrecision To Lead Agriculture In 2017?
January 16, 2017
Another new year is upon us! And I’m certain I speak for many in the agricultural world when I say Read More
Corn
Eric SfiligojThe Mood From Madison? In A Holding Pattern
January 16, 2017
Last week, I had the chance to attend the annual Wisconsin AgriBusiness Classic show in Madison, WI. It’s been a Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsAccenture Helps Syngenta Transform Its Global Logistics
January 13, 2017
Syngenta, a leading agriculture company, has collaborated with Accenture to design and implement a new digital logistics operating model across Read More
Fall Creek Seth Harden The Nature Conservancy
StewardshipLocal Farmers’ Watershed Initiative: Continuous Improve…
January 13, 2017
The goal in the Big Pine Watershed Project is to more intentionally do what local farmers and responsible ag retailers Read More
HerbicidesEPA Expands Enlist Duo Herbicide Registration To 34 Sta…
January 13, 2017
The U.S. EPA has expanded the geography for application of Enlist Duo herbicide from 15 to 34 states. This means Read More
Olson Ag Enterprise
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Acquires Nebraska Seed Retailer
January 13, 2017
Wilbur-Ellis’ Agribusiness, a recognized leader in precision agriculture technology and the distribution and marketing of plant protection, seed and nutritional Read More
ManagementDeere-Precision Planting Update and the Ag Secretary Wa…
January 12, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj provide the latest on the court date for John Deere/Precision Planting and the quest Read More
Monsanto sign
Seed/BiotechMonsanto, NRGene Form Agreement For Big Data Genomic An…
January 12, 2017
Monsanto Co. and NRGene have announced that the companies have reached a non-exclusive, multi-year global licensing agreement on NRGene’s genome-analysis Read More
AGCO Custom applicator
SprayersAGCO, Asmark Institute To Offer Training For Beginning …
January 11, 2017
AGCO Corp. and the Asmark Institute are collaborating to offer a new training program dedicated to educating and developing custom Read More
ManagementAg Land Values In Limbo In 2017
January 10, 2017
Several factors will come into play in 2017 that will determine the direction of land values. Randy Dickhut, senior vice Read More
Industry NewsPattison Agriculture Positioned To Be Leading Canadian …
January 10, 2017
Pattison Agriculture Limited (Pattison Agriculture), a division of The Jim Pattison Group (the Pattison Group), has announced the merger of Read More
Fertilizer Tender close-up
MicronutrientsHow Micronutrients Fit Into 2017 Fertility Plans
January 10, 2017
Where do micronutrients stand going forward in fertility plans? For one thing, Tim Mundorf, Field Representative with Midwest Laboratories, says Read More
Fertilizer application
State of the IndustryCautious Optimism On Fertilizer In 2017
January 10, 2017
What kind of fertilizer rates are growers and retailers looking at in 2017 and beyond? According to stakeholders CropLife magazine Read More
Asmus Farm Supply crop protection products in storage
State of the IndustryCrop Protection Products Market: Complexity Begets Oppo…
January 10, 2017
While other key market segments in agriculture continue to see tumultuous shifts in sales volumes going forward (large equipment sales are Read More
RoGator RG1300B AGCO
Sprayers10 Sprayers That Will Showcase The Latest Application T…
January 10, 2017
Sprayer manufacturers continue to step up their games with the latest in application technology. From direct injection systems and four-wheel Read More
Soybean Field
FungicidesGrowers Report Yield Boost, Extended Residual Disease C…
January 9, 2017
With the new growing season around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about inputs for 2017. As growers weigh Read More