As we celebrate Earth Day today, I would like to take a moment to talk about the future. In agriculture, we find ourselves considering a future that will include explosive population growth between now and 2050, along with projections that food demand will double. While that represents opportunity for our farmers and ranchers, the challenge they will face is meeting that demand with fewer natural resources. So agriculture is engaged at many levels evaluating efficiencies and conservation techniques that will establish a new paradigm.
At CDFA, we believe a key component is recognizing the value derived from working agricultural lands – the multiple benefits that come from farming and ranching. We call this Ecosystem Services, and it’s a recognition that that the management decisions and conservation practices of farmers and ranchers enhance open space, wildlife habitat and environmental quality; provide recreation opportunities; and offer social benefits. In our work to develop the Ecosystem Services concept, we recognize it will also inform us how we can improve environmental stewardship and enhance sustainability. Ultimately, we would like to identify how incentives can be applied to help growers with implementation costs, such as market-based trading systems. An example of this is in Michigan, where the Nature Conservancy has partnered with other organizations to offer financial incentives to farmers for groundwater recharge.
Rice growers provide an example of how Ecosystem Services work within a particular crop. Many of them are committed to conservation work on bird habitats in rice fields, enhancing the overall environmental quality of the landscape while sustainably producing a viable crop.
Looking ahead, people from different disciplines can find themselves part of the Ecosystem Services discussion. Engineers might work on water quality in agriculture to provide clean water for multiple uses. Bee experts might evaluate native pollinators and work closely with a habitat conservationist in agricultural lands to provide native pollinators to a specific region. This sort of environmental thinking will continue as our younger generation of farmers and ranchers prepares to lead us.
I am very optimistic about the next generation of farmers investing in both yield improvements and Ecosystem Services since they have grown up hearing about issues that intertwine the environment and agriculture. They will benefit from a foundation of environmental stewardship already established by their predecessors. I see future generations embracing tools that will help them effectively grow their crops while at the same time enhancing the environmental quality of their working lands. That is truly what sustainability is all about, as well as our recognition of Earth Day.