Re­port sug­gests shift in agri­cul­ture re­search

The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - BUSINESS | - By DAVID MERCER

Fed­eral ad­vi­sory group rec­om­mends more fo­cus on sus­tain­abil­ity and not just yield per acre.

Amer­i­can farm­ers are pro­duc­ing more food than ever, but agri­cul­tural re­search is too fo­cused on in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion and needs to do bet­ter at con­sid­er­ing con­se­quences such as wa­ter and air pol­lu­tion, ac­cord­ing to a re­port is­sued Tues­day by a fed­eral ad­vi­sory group.

The Na­tional Acad­e­mies’ Na­tional Re­search Coun­cil re­port found that farm­ers are be- ing asked to pro­duce more food to sus­tain the world’s pop­u­la­tion but with lit­tle fo­cus be­yond how many bushels of grain or pounds of veg­eta­bles or meat they can gen­er­ate.

“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,” said Ju­lia Korne­gay, who leads the Washington-based coun­cil’s com­mit­tee that wrote the re­port. She also is in charge of the depart­ment of hor­ti­cul­tural sci­ence at North Carolina State Uni­ver­sity.

The re­port broadly re­com- mends that agri­cul­ture fo­cus more study on the ef­fects of pop­u­lar farm­ing prac­tices that can im­prove sus­tain­abil­ity, while at the same time in­te­grat­ing re­search from a broad range of dis­ci­plines and spend­ing more on that broader study.

The re­port is a fol­low-up to the coun­cil’s 1989 study, “Al­ter­na­tive Agri­cul­ture.” The coun­cil ad­vises the govern­ment on sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing.

The new re­port praises U.S. farm­ers for pro­duc­ing 158 per­cent more food now than they did 50 years ago, and it ac­knowl­edges what it calls “a re­mark­able emer­gence” of in­no­va­tions that sup­port sus­taina- ble agri­cul­ture, de­fined as prac­tices that both sat­isfy the need for food and bio­fuel crops while also pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and im­prov­ing farm­ing’s eco­nomic vi­a­bil­ity.

But the re­port also said agri­cul­ture was nowhere near where it needed to be to meet those goals.

The re­port rec­om­mends re­search aimed at im­prov­ing agri­cul­ture’s sus­tain­abil­ity — the study, for ex­am­ple, of prac­tices such as re­duced tillage, plant­ing cover crops and diver­si­fy­ing crops on in­di­vid­ual farms. All are prac­tices that many farm­ers use to vary­ing de­grees.

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