Word on Wheat: Achieving Sustainability in Agriculture

May 29, 2009 Bookmark and Share

Karl Scronce, NAWG President

In the year 2050 our planet is projected to have nine billion inhabitants. Feeding that many people is mind boggling. Will food for all those people be consistent and plentiful? Will nine billion humans have diets that promote good health? And, an ever increasing question: will our production practices to produce all of that food be sustainable?

Sustainability is an ambiguous, qualitative term that has as many meanings as people with opinions on the topic. The Wikipedia, the new-age encyclopedia, defines it as the ability to maintain balance. How that translates into actions we take to feed our population has been a point of significant debate.

To get a better handle on the topic of sustainability, the National Association of Wheat Growers has joined and participated in the Field to Market coalition organized through the non-profit Keystone Alliance. The participants in this group include conservation groups, academia, growers and others throughout the food supply chain.

NAWG staff and others who work on this issue with Field to Market have the goal of defining, measuring and documenting changes in sustainability over time. This information allows agriculture to better tell its story about gains that have been already made, and helps set priorities for next steps. Through these efforts, agriculture will be better able to strike a long-term balance between environmental concerns, natural resource concerns and feeding those nine billion people.

In March, I represented growers at a conference called “A 21st Century Agricultural Revolution,” organized in part by Keystone. There, I saw an unbelievably diverse mix of ideas and attitudes on what constitutes sustainability. One very valuable focus of the organizers was to promote conversation between participants. I was impressed with the participants’ true concern for people and the world we all share. However, one concern of mine as a farmer is that we don’t lose sight of the end goal, which is feeding the world’s population.

The March conference reemphasized to me that NAWG and other representatives of production agriculture need to remain at the table in the discussion of sustainable agriculture. We need to take great care to ensure that the goal or the definition of sustainability isn’t hijacked for special interests or politics.

It is my opinion that we consider all aspects of getting the most out of our natural resources. This includes but is not limited to tillage practices, crop protection products, biotechnology, food processing, transportation and distribution.

We need to believe that working together in a group such as Field to Market will bring us to the next level of efficiency in our food systems. Nine billion people will depend on our success.

– Scronce is a wheat producer from Klamath Falls, Ore.