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
EquipmentDeere Announces Soucy Track Distribution Alliance
August 28, 2015
John Deere announces an alliance with Soucy Track to sell and distribute products through the John Deere dealer channel. “This Read More
FertilizerFall-Applied Phosphorus: A Rooted Investment
August 28, 2015
As commodity prices decrease and input prices continue to rise, farmers are seeking more efficient strategies for meeting a high Read More
Monsanto Sign
Crop InputsWhat’s Next For Monsanto, Syngenta?
August 28, 2015
After dropping its $47 billion bid to take over Swiss agribusiness firm Syngenta, Monsanto may be turning its focus to Read More
Golden Harvest Corn stalks
Crop InputsMonsanto: Syngenta Not The Only Horse In Crop Protectio…
August 28, 2015
Monsanto Co, having ditched an audacious $46 billion (£30 billion) offer for Syngenta AG, may downshift to a humbler strategy Read More
ManagementConsolidation hits and a miss; And a look at China’s ch…
August 28, 2015
As Monsanto suspends its pursuit of Syngenta, consolidation news at the retail and distribution level heats up. CropLife magazine’s Executive Read More
Corn Field
MicronutrientsHuma Gro Introduces New Boron Liquid Nutrient Formulati…
August 28, 2015
BORO-MAX, a new boron (B) 10% liquid nutrient formulation, has been added to the Huma Gro product line. This new Read More
Crop InputsNFU: Monsanto Decision To Withdraw Syngenta Bid ‘…
August 26, 2015
National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson said the organization was very pleased by the news that Monsanto has withdrawn Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto Withdraws Bid For Syngenta
August 26, 2015
Monsanto Co. abandoned its latest effort to acquire Syngenta AG, the world’s top maker of pesticides, after a sweetened bid Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsSyngenta Comments On Monsanto Announcement
August 26, 2015
The Board of Syngenta confirms that it received a verbal proposal from Monsanto to acquire the company at a price Read More
Case IH Patriot 2250 Sprayer
EquipmentHigh-powered Case IH Patriot 2250 Sprayer Pushes Throug…
August 26, 2015
Engineered with more muscle, the new 660-gallon-capacity Patriot 2250 sprayer features best-in-class horsepower, along with the fuel efficiency that comes Read More
Crop InputsLand ‘O Lakes, United Suppliers Finalize Merger
August 24, 2015
According to a press release on August 24, owners of United Suppliers, Inc. and members of Land O’Lakes, Inc. “have Read More
TMX-2050 In-Cab Display Launch Run Screen
Eric SfiligojPrecision Ag Could Shine In Increased Spotlight On Agri…
August 24, 2015
By any measure, 2015 is turning into one of the most challenging years agriculture has ever experienced. All throughout good Read More
ManagementCrop Conditions In Minnesota and Traveling Time
August 21, 2015
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiilgoj discuss the crop outlook from a field trip to Minnesota and upcoming travel plans. Read More
HerbicidesREUTERS: Anti-GMO ‘Scientist’ Calls For New…
August 20, 2015
EDITORS NOTE: We feel that it is important to note that there are those that believe one of the lead Read More
Rendering of Syngenta Seedcare Institute expansion
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Announces Seedcare Application And Resource Ce…
August 19, 2015
Syngenta recently announced the Seedcare Application and Resource Center, a collaborative new website designed exclusively for Syngenta Seedcare customers to Read More
Winter Wheat
Industry NewsArysta LifeScience Announces Two New Regional Sales Man…
August 19, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America recently announced Steve Vining and Phil Reding have each accepted new positions as Regional Sales Managers. Read More
West Central Cooperative, Jefferson, IA
CropLife 100Iowa Cooperatives To Explore Unification
August 19, 2015
The boards of directors at two of Iowa’s leading farmer-owned cooperatives yesterday signed a letter of intent to study the Read More
Golden Harvest Corn healthy leaves
Industry NewsAligned Ag Distributors Names Vice President, Crop Prot…
August 18, 2015
Aligned Ag Distributors LLC have appointed Warren Hragyil to VP Crop Protection. Hragyil comes to Aligned Ag Distributors LLC with Read More