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Fluid Journal : Fluid Journal 2002-2004
Fall 2004 Can Agriculture and Evironmentalists Align Interests? Dr. Kenneth G. Cassman Summary: While I firmly believe that commodity agriculture in the Corn Belt can play a critical role in ensuring global food security and at the same time protect biodiversity, improve water quality, and reduce reliance on imported oil, I also believe that the key limitation to convincing environmentalists of this capability is lack of good science and data. Few studies have sought to measure all of the critical parameters in well- designed production-scale field research to obtain the required data sets. Such research requires substantial investment in environmental monitoring equipment, technical support, and field operations. I suspect that if such an effort were made using progressive crop and soil management practices, it would unequivocally document the potential to improve environmental quality in production systems that would prove highly energy efficient, producing grain yields 30 percent greater than today's average yield. Given this scenario, I believe it would be possible to convince both environmentalists and the general public that federal farm programs should provide incentives that encourage renewable energy production from corn and soybeans. Yes, says author. How? By ensuring global food security, protecting biodiversity, improving water quality, and reducing reliance on imported oil. Fluid Journal 1 It is the premise of this article that despite distrust of the environmental movement, there is an urgent need and tremendous opportunity to recruit urban support for agriculture, and in particular, active support of key environmental groups. Convergence of interests. Of all human activities, agriculture is practiced on an area representing about 33 percent of the earth's surface and it uses a majority of the world's available freshwater supply and nitrogen (N) of anthropogenic origin. Because it appropriates so much of the world's natural resources, it is no wonder that agriculture receives close attention from environmental groups. An issue is whether farmers and agricultural industries can help address the concerns of the general public and environmental groups and gain their support for a more profi table and vibrant agricultural sector. I contend that recent research and development of new techniques have laid the foundation for such an alliance as illustrated in the following examples. Biodiversity. The single greatest threat to biodiversity worldwide is the expansion of agriculture into natural ecosystems such as rainforests, grasslands, and wetlands---especially Figure 1. Trends in maize grain yield, use of N fertilizer, and NUE in the USA, Cassman et al. 2002
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