Submitted to: Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/1/2006
Publication Date: 12/1/2008
Citation: Hanson, J.D., Hendrickson, J.R., Archer, D.W. 2008. Challenges for Maintaining Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the United States. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. 23 (4):325-334. Interpretive Summary: The continued sustainability of US agriculture is in question. During the past several decades many changes have occurred in the structure and operation of US agriculture. The primary current trends impacting the future evolution of agriculture include a reduction in the number of farms and farmers, the resulting increase in farm since, and subsequently, the commercialization of farms. The agricultural community will face many new and difficult challenges in the years to come. The global market place is already dictating agricultural policy and subsequently production in the U.S. New policies need to be developed to encourage the development of integrated-dynamic agricultural systems. These systems can ultimately assist land managers to develop new and improved sustainable land-use strategies to the benefit of generations to come.
Technical Abstract: During the twentieth century, agriculture underwent vast transformations. Number of farmers has decreased, more farmers are relying on off-farm income, agriculture’s proportion of the U.S. GDP has declined, and a minority of non-metro counties in the U.S. are farming dependent. Agriculture’s evolution will continue and we have identified key trends and future challenges to effectively manage our changing agricultural system. Eight current trends in agriculture were identified. These included (1) increased land degradation; (2) competing land uses; (3) focus on single ecosystem service; (4) increase in farm size; (5) movement toward commercialization; (6) genetic engineering; (7) global markets; and (8) changing social structure. Future trends likely to affect agriculture include (1) diminishing and increasingly volatile farm incomes; (2) reduced government involvement in food regulation; (3) continued transition from farming to agribusiness; (4) Land-use will become a major issue; (5) increasing animal protein consumption in the U.S.; (6) increased public input on livestock production practices; (7) increasing urbanization of historically rural U.S. counties; (8) increased public concern over food safety; (9) increased medicinal production from agriculture; (10) new tastes, markets, and opportunities will emerge. We further postulated that future challenges facing agriculture might include (1) competitive pressures; (2) sustainable development; (3) resource conservation; and (4) research and development. Integrated agricultural systems may be flexible enough to address these challenges. However, robust principles will be needed to design adaptable integrated agricultural systems. We present a nonexclusive list of preliminary principles under the four general categories of (1) economics and economic policies; (2) environmental; (3) social and political; and (4) technological.