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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: HYDROLOGIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF CONSERVATION PRACTICES IN OKLAHOMA AGRICULTURAL WATERSHEDS Title: Expanding horizons of farming with grass

Authors
item Steiner, Jean
item Franzluebbers, Alan
item Neely, Constance - HEIFER INTERNATIONAL, AR

Submitted to: Soil and Water Conservation Society
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: February 1, 2009
Publication Date: March 31, 2009
Citation: Steiner, J.L., Franzluebbers, A.J., Neely, C.L. 2009. Expanding horizons of farming with grass. In: Franzluebbers, A.J., editor. Farming with Grass: Achieving Sustainable Mixed Agricultural Landscapes. Ankeny, IA: Soil and Water Conservation Society. Available: http://www.swcs.org/en/publications/farming_with_grass/ p. 216-234.

Interpretive Summary: Today’s agriculture and food systems are deeply rooted from the era of cheap energy, an assumption of static climate, and the ability of entities to “externalize” environmental and social costs. The recent collapse of global financial systems has led to more openness to discuss rights and responsibilities of individuals and corporations as well as the role of government in economic systems. With growing world population, increased demand on water supplies, increased vulnerability to climate extremes, and low global food stocks, it is time to rethink how to provide more secure and resilient food systems and enhanced economic opportunities in rural communities. While the pressures are diverse and great, times of change present opportunities to reassess options and choose new directions. Participants in the Farming with Grass conference, held in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, from 20-22 October 2008, articulated the need to move to a post-industrial agriculture and set out a vision for agriculture based on sound ecological principles with economic accounting for environmental services and costs. Four grand challenges of agriculture–achieving sustainable bioenergy production, adapting to and mitigating global climate change, improving water quality and availability, and ensuring food security–are interrelated and must be addressed systematically, so that solution of one problem does not create a problem in another area. Past policies have favored a few commodity crops, and disfavored producers of grasses and other perennial crops. Perennial species, incorporated into diverse agricultural systems, have great potential to enhance resilience against uncertain climate and market conditions. Additionally, by developing on-farm and rural enterprises to provide products into local food systems, agriculture can help revitalize communities and provide healthy food options to schools, families, and institutions. Addressing these challenges will require a fundamental re-thinking of agricultural policy and practice to maintain or increase production, mitigate past environmental damage, protect biological diversity of domesticated and wild species, reduce dependence on fossil fuel, provide healthier foods (particularly to children and the poor), and increase economic and cultural opportunities in rural areas.

Technical Abstract: Today’s agriculture and food systems are deeply rooted from the era of cheap energy, an assumption of static climate, and the ability of entities to “externalize” environmental and social costs. The recent collapse of global financial systems has led to more openness to discuss rights and responsibilities of individuals and corporations as well as the role of government in economic systems. With growing world population, increased demand on water supplies, increased vulnerability to climate extremes, and low global food stocks, it is time to rethink how to provide more secure and resilient food systems and enhanced economic opportunities in rural communities. While the pressures are diverse and great, times of change present opportunities to reassess options and choose new directions. Participants in the Farming with Grass conference, held in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, from 20-22 October 2008, articulated the need to move to a post-industrial agriculture and set out a vision for agriculture based on sound ecological principles with economic accounting for environmental services and costs. Four grand challenges of agriculture–achieving sustainable bioenergy production, adapting to and mitigating global climate change, improving water quality and availability, and ensuring food security–are interrelated and must be addressed systematically, so that solution of one problem does not create a problem in another area. Past policies have favored a few commodity crops, and disfavored producers of grasses and other perennial crops. Perennial species, incorporated into diverse agricultural systems, have great potential to enhance resilience against uncertain climate and market conditions. Additionally, by developing on-farm and rural enterprises to provide products into local food systems, agriculture can help revitalize communities and provide healthy food options to schools, families, and institutions. Addressing these challenges will require a fundamental re-thinking of agricultural policy and practice to maintain or increase production, mitigate past environmental damage, protect biological diversity of domesticated and wild species, reduce dependence on fossil fuel, provide healthier foods (particularly to children and the poor), and increase economic and cultural opportunities in rural areas.

Last Modified: 10/24/2014
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