Stakeholders in agriculture, forestry and conservation on Wednesday joined together to reflect on the industry's commitment to improving land use during a Farm Foundation presentation regarding the "Solutions from the Land" project.
Solutions from the Land released its first report "Developing a New Vision for United States Agriculture, Forestry, and Conservation" coinciding with Wednesday's panel discussion in Washington, D.C.
A.G. Kawamura, owner/partner of Orange County Produce, LLC and co-chair of Solutions From the Land, said the report provides a framework identifying five broad land management challenges that could benefit from future policies and management practices.
The practices include limiting the loss of working land, improving conflicting policies and inadequate rewards for ecosystem services, declining investments in research, climate change, and the increasing number of risks producers face.
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, also participated in the discussion.
"We have to know that we can sustainably manage the life systems that we work with, we have to look at the resources that we are dealt and also create the new resources," Kawamura said.
Kawamura said agricultural producers need to understand that to satisfy the food, fiber and energy needs of the planet, there will be challenges to managing resources and infrastructure. Part of Wednesday's forum focused on producing more with the same – or less – amount of land.
"Productivity has to increase in ways that allow the landscapes to provide the full range of services that we need," Kawamura said. "We feel very strongly that agriculture fits in that urban area, whether it's an urban forest, whether it's an edible landscaping, but at the same time as we feed a nation, we recognize that in that nation there is an enormous productive capacity … needed by the whole population of a planet that needs to eat every single day."
Kawamura said producers must begin to develop a plan to provide large amounts of food and energy products in a sustainable manner.
Technology plays big role in future of land management
Any plan must provide economic sustainability for producers and the SFL strategy does, said Larkin Martin, who 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 farm, there have been profound changes in how we farm (in last two decades), technically driven with precision farming such as computers and GIS systems to specifically put things versus broadcast application. This requires more work technically, and new skill levels are required," she said.
GMO crops have led, on her farm, to much more environmentally sound production practices, limiting pesticide applications and 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 its 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 and not hindered.
Another crucial step in long-term farm solutions, and food production, 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 the farm issues now "is very exciting," she said.
Policy could be a big hurdle
Despite big improvements in technology, adoption of sustainable techniques and interest in production practices mutually beneficial for the farmers and the land, Charlie Stenholm explained that the current political atmosphere may pose a big hurdle to adopting the SFL plan.
"Top-down management – Washington, D.C.-down, does not work. Solutions for the land … will not work unless it's bottom-up," Stenholm said. "It seems to me that the biggest challenges to the implementation of Solutions for the Land is going to come from inside the beltway."
Stenholm went on to explain that a common-sense approach may not resonate with lawmakers. He said solutions, such as the ones expressed in the SFL report, could be a hard-sell in Washington. The reason, Stenholm said, could be because of differing perspectives on agricultural production and the environment.
SFL serves as gateway discussion
Tom Lovejoy, SFL co-chair, said as producers and policymakers look forward to adequately feeding a growing population, all while improving sustainability and limiting effects agricultural production has on the land, improved discussion will need to be an integral part to moving forward.
"If you can have a real discussion, then a lot of this can move forward," Lovejoy said.
To read the full report, visit the SFL website at www.sfldialogue.net. The website also has more information on opportunities to get involved in the SFL conversation on land management issues.