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Sustainable Agriculture Bill Proebsting Department of Horticulture Oregon State University.

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Presentation on theme: "Sustainable Agriculture Bill Proebsting Department of Horticulture Oregon State University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Sustainable Agriculture Bill Proebsting Department of Horticulture Oregon State University

2 Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To know that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice. Fire and Ice Robert Frost

3 Sustainable Agriculture Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs

4 Sustainable Agriculture: An Oxymoron “our farming has never been sustainable” Wes Jackson “our farming has never been sustainable” Wes Jackson “agriculture represents the single most profound ecological change in the entire 3.5 billion year history of life” Niles Eldredge “agriculture represents the single most profound ecological change in the entire 3.5 billion year history of life” Niles Eldredge “the fact that we have not yet invented a truly sustainable agricultural system means that we have not yet achieved a truly sustainable civilization” Ward Chesworth “the fact that we have not yet invented a truly sustainable agricultural system means that we have not yet achieved a truly sustainable civilization” Ward Chesworth

5 U.S. Agricultural Policy “In actual fact, American agricultural policy distorts food prices, frustrates innovation, limits product diversity and subsidizes a select group of farmers at enormous public cost.” “In actual fact, American agricultural policy distorts food prices, frustrates innovation, limits product diversity and subsidizes a select group of farmers at enormous public cost.” National Cattlemen’s Beef Association National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

6 U.S. Industrial Agriculture System of crop production that results in: System of crop production that results in: Destruction of soil Destruction of soil Overuse of energy, water, fertilizer, chemicals Overuse of energy, water, fertilizer, chemicals Wreckage of rural societies and economies Wreckage of rural societies and economies Are these good things or bad things? Are these good things or bad things? Sustainable or unsustainable? Sustainable or unsustainable?

7 Capitalism 1) Market-driven system 2) Some level of government involvement 3) As currently practiced, the system is flawed

8 Natural Capitalism Manufactured Capital; infrastructure, machines, tools, factories Manufactured Capital; infrastructure, machines, tools, factories Financial Capital; cash, investments, monetary instruments Financial Capital; cash, investments, monetary instruments Human Capital; labor, intelligence, culture, organization Human Capital; labor, intelligence, culture, organization Natural Capital; resources, ecosystems Natural Capital; resources, ecosystems

9 Industrial Capitalism Fails to assign value to natural, social or cultural systems Fails to assign value to natural, social or cultural systems Thus, it fails to live by basic accounting principles and is not sustainable Thus, it fails to live by basic accounting principles and is not sustainable

10 Industrial Capitalism, cont. “Free enterprise and market forces will allocate people and resources to their highest and best uses” “Free enterprise and market forces will allocate people and resources to their highest and best uses” Can’t be true without accounting for natural capital Can’t be true without accounting for natural capital

11 Industrial Capitalism, cont. “ Resource shortages will elicit development of substitutes” “ Resource shortages will elicit development of substitutes” Substitutes for: Substitutes for: Soil Soil Air Air Water Water Functional ecosystems Functional ecosystems

12 Industrial Capitalism, cont. “Concerns for a healthy environment are important but must be balanced against the requirements for economic growth if a high standard of living is to be maintained” “Concerns for a healthy environment are important but must be balanced against the requirements for economic growth if a high standard of living is to be maintained”

13 EnvironmentSocial Justice Economy Current Social System

14 Gross National Product Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare ISEW = personal consumption + non-defensive public expenditures - defensive private expenditures + capital formation + services from domestic labor - costs of environmental degradation - depreciation of natural capital

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16 Why does the environment matter? Why does the environment matter?

17 Ecosystem Services: Things that nature provides for free Climate stability Climate stability Weather moderation Weather moderation Clean air Clean air Clean water Clean water Flood control Flood control Nutrient cycling Nutrient cycling Waste removal Waste removal Soil formation Insect control Pollination Seed dispersal Biodiversity Value roughly $30 trillion ($30 x )

18 Replicating Ecosystem Services

19 Ecosystem Services of Biosphere 2 >$150 million >$150 million 8 persons 8 persons Produced 80% of food requirements Produced 80% of food requirements Ecological collapse Ecological collapse Atmospheric change Atmospheric change $20 million x 6.5 billion people = $13 x $20 million x 6.5 billion people = $13 x 10 16

20 Ecosystem Services Are Important: What’s the Problem? Are we really having a significant impact? Are we really having a significant impact?

21 Ecological Overshoot of the Human Economy PNAS 99, 9266 (2002)

22 Ecosystem Services related to Agriculture Ecosystem Services related to Agriculture

23 Soil 2 billion tons of soil eroded per year from agricultural lands 2 billion tons of soil eroded per year from agricultural lands Costs $44 billion per year Costs $44 billion per year Lost productivity Lost productivity Water pollution Water pollution Silting of reservoirs Silting of reservoirs 90% of U.S. land eroding above replacement rates 90% of U.S. land eroding above replacement rates Growing a bushel of corn costs 2-5 bushels of top soil Growing a bushel of corn costs 2-5 bushels of top soil

24 Soil Carbon Science 277, 507 (1997)

25 Nitrogen Crop Yield Nitrogen Efficiency Nature 418, 671 (2002)

26 Nitrogen Run-off Groundwater contamination Groundwater contamination Streams, lakes and wetlands Streams, lakes and wetlands

27 Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone

28 Ocean Dead Zones

29 Water Ag accounts for 80% of water used in U.S. Ag accounts for 80% of water used in U.S. Depletion of stream flows, water quality, fish and wildlife Depletion of stream flows, water quality, fish and wildlife Federal projects deliver water below cost Federal projects deliver water below cost Depletion of aquifers Depletion of aquifers

30 Ogallala Aquifer

31 Aral Sea

32 Energy Industrial agriculture is energy intensive: Industrial agriculture is energy intensive: Tilling, planting, spraying, harvesting Tilling, planting, spraying, harvesting Synthesizing fertilizer, irrigating Synthesizing fertilizer, irrigating Processing Processing Transporting Transporting For each food calorie produced, 10 calories of oil are consumed For each food calorie produced, 10 calories of oil are consumed "It costs 435 fossil fuel calories to fly a 5-calorie strawberry from California to London." "It costs 435 fossil fuel calories to fly a 5-calorie strawberry from California to London."

33 Energy in Agriculture Based on energy use alone, agriculture is about 90% unsustainable Based on energy use alone, agriculture is about 90% unsustainable Industrial agriculture can never be sustainable, because it relies on fossil fuels Industrial agriculture can never be sustainable, because it relies on fossil fuels Only energy generation directly from sun, sun-driven wind and water can be sustainable Only energy generation directly from sun, sun-driven wind and water can be sustainable

34 Good News! We have many exciting challenges to devise a sustainable agriculture We have many exciting challenges to devise a sustainable agriculture

35 Towards Sustainable Agriculture 1) Account for natural capital 2) Remove or change subsidies 3) Tax “bads,” instead of “goods” 4) Emphasize ecological, rather than technological approaches to agriculture and other activities

36 Science 309, 570 (2005)

37 Characteristics of Sustainable Agriculture 1) Energy generated on farm 2) Mimic natural systems 3) Use of perennial plants 4) Locally-grown food A locally-grown meal requires about 6-10% of the energy use of a standard American meal A locally-grown meal requires about 6-10% of the energy use of a standard American meal

38 Natural Systems Agriculture Developing systems to, “rely on the ecological benefits of natural ecosystems with no or minimal sacrifice in food production.” Wes Jackson, The Land Institute Developing systems to, “rely on the ecological benefits of natural ecosystems with no or minimal sacrifice in food production.” Wes Jackson, The Land Institute Modeled on prairies Modeled on prairies Perennial plants Perennial plants Species diversity Species diversity Powered by the sun Powered by the sun

39 Major Questions Is there a trade-off between perennialism and seed yield? Is there a trade-off between perennialism and seed yield? Can a perennial polyculture outyield a monoculture? Can a perennial polyculture outyield a monoculture? Can perennial polycultures defend themselves? Can perennial polycultures defend themselves? Can a perennial polyculture supply its own nitrogen? Can a perennial polyculture supply its own nitrogen?

40 Is There a Role for Biotechnology in Sustainable Agriculture? Problems of agriculture are much bigger than genetic engineering Problems of agriculture are much bigger than genetic engineering Presently, biotechnology is, at best, basically irrelevant to developing sustainable agriculture Presently, biotechnology is, at best, basically irrelevant to developing sustainable agriculture At worst, it perpetuates a disastrous system At worst, it perpetuates a disastrous system

41 Ethical questions, mostly narrow the debate about risk Ethical questions, mostly narrow the debate about risk Natural? Natural? Toxic? Toxic? Genetic pollution? Genetic pollution? Invasive? Invasive? Risks vs. Benefits Risks vs. Benefits Industrial agriculture is unsustainable. Industrial agriculture is unsustainable. Is There a Role for Biotechnology in Sustainable Agriculture?

42 Are single gene approaches suitable for addressing complex problems? Are single gene approaches suitable for addressing complex problems? Insect resistance Insect resistance Herbicide resistance Herbicide resistance May or may not have had some positive environmental effect, but very little effect on “Sustainability” May or may not have had some positive environmental effect, but very little effect on “Sustainability”

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44 Focus Questions What are the consequences of developing, or not developing, sustainable agriculture? What are the consequences of developing, or not developing, sustainable agriculture? What are some genetic traits that might have a major impact on developing sustainable agriculture? What are some genetic traits that might have a major impact on developing sustainable agriculture?

45 Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To know that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice. Fire and Ice Robert Frost


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