In a recently released report, researchers on U.S. National Research Council are recommending major, structural changes in American agricultural policy in order to guarantee and sustainable and competitive future. The researchers noted that worldwide population increases, the developing economies of several major non-Western nations (like China and India), global climate change, and an increasing demand for ethanol are all placing severe strains on U.S. agriculture.
The report focuses on the need for long-term, sustainable agriculture. While the numbers of small and organic farms are on the rise, American agricultural production is being increasingly concentrated in the hands of large-scale agri-businesses. In 2007, the largest 2% of American farms were responsible for nearly 60% of total food grown in the U.S.
The concentration of agricultural production into smaller and smaller growing regions has potentially devastating consequences on soil, water, and other resources. Excessive fertilization and production can wear out soil, depleting needed nutrients, and contributes to the buildup of greenhouse gasses. In addition, agricultural concentration can take a significant toll on the surrounding environment, as runoffs and chemical leaching can pollute waterways.
The solution to these problems, however, is daunting. According to the panel, major structural and marketing changes will have to be made in order to keep agricultural production sustainable. Embracing organic farming, altering livestock production, encouraging diversification of farmland and small farming are several solutions proposed. However, their largest recommendation is reducing or eliminating subsidies for large-scale agribusinesses in order to encourage local farming and agricultural consumption. The research team hopes that these recommendations will be considered in the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer