US Food Security: Big Trouble, Big Needs, Big Opportunities

US Food Security: Big Trouble, Big Needs, Big Opportunities

John D Wiener
University of Colorado
Time Slot: 
Concurrent Sessions 2
Session Type: 

Agricultural markets and farming systems are, as J.K. McIntyre said at the Soil Health Institute, optimized for the sale of inputs, to which we add, and the reduction of labor by dramatically misguided simplification of systems and concentration of the profitable parts of the supply chain. Small and medium commercial farming (as distinguished from hobby farms and low-density residential land conversion) are rapidly losing ground and income, though the smaller scale operations have been much more willing to adopt conservation measures when able to do so. Urban interests in open space amenity and recreation, water quality, food quality and local food, and opportunities to dramatically improve water sharing with mutual benefit can be better satisfied with partnerships that stabilize farms to meet the goals of survival, stewardship, and succession. If we fail, productivity losses and losses of ecosystem services may be largely irreversible, subjecting the US to far more market pressure from global competition from governments and businesses serving livestock growers and consumers whose desperation may in large measure increase along with a few more years or decades of growing demand for higher quality food.


Agricultural Adaptation and Adoption: No more delay!
John Wiener, University of Colorado
Innovative adaptation strategies for agriculture
Jerry Hatfield, USDA-ARS, National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment
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(Dr. Hatfield has led USDA weather and climate impacts work for decades.) Climate change is already impacting agricultural production. The 2014 National Climate Assessment pointed out that our ability to adapt would be limited after 2050 because of the extent of changes in temperature and precipitation. Past adaptation of agriculture will not likely succeed when change exceeds the flexibility of our current technologies and more innovation will be required. The trends in climate would further exacerbate pest outbreaks, further impacting production, and climate change will continue to degrade our soil resources. Application of the genetics x environment x management (G x E x M) framework to assess coupling adaptation strategies with genetics to help offset the impacts of the changing environment holds promise. Reductions in crop production and quality result from excessive heat during the pollination stage, high night temperatures during the reproductive stage, and lack of water. Genetic variation coupled with innovative management will be required to produce the quantity and quality of food required to sustain the global population. The adaptation strategies required to offset the changes in climate will have to focus on where crops can be most efficiently grown without causing environmental degradation. These frameworks are being developed to quantify agricultural production scenarios that can be adopted by producers. Public research in agriculture has been reduced, unfortunately; this could be improved.

Farrming systems and sets of practices, regenerative agriculture
John Hendrickson, USDA
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Farming Systems need to be resilient to respond to variable weather conditions. Enhancing diversity is one method of increasing resilience to economic and climatic factors. Unfortunately, research suggests that agriculture is becoming more homogenous and less diverse. One potential method to increase diversity is through developing crop-livestock systems. Livestock have the potential to provide economic and climatic resilience systems that are primarily cropping, by providing alternative sources of income, consuming failed crops and harvesting residue. Livestock also have the potential to enhance soil quality through manure deposition and the inclusion of perennials in the system while also providing environmental services. However, livestock agriculture is often criticized for negative environmental impacts, concerns with animal welfare and concerns about the impact of meat consumption on human health. Evaluation of the positive and negative impacts of livestock production simultaneously is difficult. A recently developed tool ‘The Barn’ may provide opportunities to simultaneously evaluate tradeoffs in livestock production. ‘The Barn’ has 5 interfaces which include 1) Markets, 2) Employment, 3) Inputs, 4) Social and 5) Climate and Environment. Comparisons of agricultural systems can provide graphical examples of tradeoffs. These comparisons can help producers develop adaptive and resilient systems and the public understand why these systems are being developed.

Advances in agroforestry, buffers and filters: we know more than we do.
Gary Bentrup, USDA National Agroforestry Center
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Changing climate and extreme weather events are affecting hydrological processes on agricultural lands which is contributing to watershed-wide impacts across rural and urban land uses. Adaptive strategies on farms and ranches can play important role in managing water quality and quantity issues under these dynamic and variable conditions. Within the suite of available options, perennial practices can help retain soil moisture, increase filtration, and reduce pollution while also delivering other ecosystem goods and services. For instance, they can help moderate increasing streamflow temperatures, protect aquatic ecology, and provide pollinator habitat while also providing agronomic benefits to producers. Current and emerging tools are enhancing the ability to design and locate these multifunctional practices to better serve rural and urban interests.

The soil degradation crisis is arriving, to our peril
Rick Cruse, Iowa State University
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Soil degradation associated with climate change is affecting soil physical properties that impact soil ecology which in turn alters nutrient cycling, nutrient uptake by crops and water quality. The soil surface layer, the most organic matter rich and ecologically active layer, is particularly vulnerable to high intensity precipitation and other anthropogenically influenced activities, such as tillage, that lead to further degradation. Offsite impacts such as elevated greenhouse gas emissions resulting from soil organic matter oxidation and degraded water quality emanating from agricultural field water runoff continues at unacceptable rates. Worldwide, soil degradation threatens food quantity and quality by reducing the capacity of soil to supply nutrients and water to crops, especially under stressful climatic conditions. This short presentation will wrap the package and lead into audience questions.