The nation has its eyes on agriculture, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently celebrating National Agriculture Week and countless state and local organizations recognizing the importance of our working lands and the farmers and ranchers who manage them. However, since 1982, the U.S. developed 41 million rural acres—that’s one out of three acres ever developed in this country! Looking forward, with a third of farm operators now older than age 65, a huge transfer of land and resources is imminent. Given an estimated world population of nine billion people in 2050, even greater competition for land and water is looming on the horizon.
With this expected population growth, how much land and water do we need to meet present and future demands for food, energy and environmental services? Have we already converted/diverted too much? How do we ensure conservation outcomes while preserving land and water rights?
Recognizing tight budgets and multiple resource demands, 21st century solutions will require greater cooperation among agricultural producers, all levels of government and private-sector partners to focus on conservation outcomes instead of jurisdictional authorities. Toward this end, American Farmland Trust has partnered with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Foundation NFP to host a National Agricultural Landscape Forum in Washington, D.C., on April 7–8, 2011.
Guided by a Blue Ribbon Panel of leaders in agriculture and conservation, authorities from around the country will debate new policy approaches that are needed to sustain agriculture as a vital component of the nation’s landscape and to protect the health of the precious natural resources upon which our nation’s security depends.
Regional roundtables are currently being held by Farm Foundation NFP to bring diverse “on-the-ground” perspectives to inform forum discussions. Outcomes from the roundtables and national forum are part of the public input process required by the Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act (RCA) and will be used to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of federal programs aimed at improving environmental quality and rural development.
Creating opportunities to work together in a strategic, coordinated fashion is essential. How do we redesign the institutional structures we have now to reduce silos and promote partnerships among agencies, levels of government and producers? Finding ways to increase collaboration and share scarce resources is a sentiment shared by our national leaders. As Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Ranking Member of the Senate Ag Committee, recently explained in a National Ag Day address, the future of federal agricultural programs is dependent on everyone working together. Sen. Roberts is forming plans with Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to hold farm bill hearings around the country to illuminate key issues in agriculture. With the pending opportunity to share opinions that could inform the outcome of the 2012 Farm Bill, the National Agricultural Landscapes Forum will provide an early incubator for ideas and solutions from a broad spectrum of agricultural and conservation interests.
Engaging with a strong lineup of speakers and presenters, forum-goers will be involved in discussions that will shape future policy and determine the course of agriculture over the coming years. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan will carry on the energy of National Ag Week and kick off the forum as keynote speaker. A G Kawamura, former California Secretary of Agriculture and partner with us in the ground-breaking Ag Vision 2030 initiative, will present on “Foodsheds, Energy Sheds and Watersheds.” NRCS Chief Dave White will provide a venue to share a wide range of concerns as Blue Ribbon Panelists recap what they heard at the Farm Foundation NFP Regional Roundtables.
Please join us, our partners and the Blue Ribbon Panel in a vigorous discussion about how to ensure the health and prosperity of the nation’s agricultural landscape.
About the Author: Julia Freedgood is Managing Director for Farmland and Communities at American Farmland Trust.