Farm and Field

Innovative technologies, policies make agriculture environmentally sustainable

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 3, 2018 12:01 am

Agriculture faces increasing demands for food, feed, fiber and fuel from a growing population under the looming threat of climate change.

Advances in seed technologies, equipment and crop management offer considerable promise for increasing agricultural productivity and meeting these demands. But a key challenge for agriculture is to meet demand while protecting natural resources.

"Ultimately,land is the resource in fixed supply on the planet; therefore, we have to figure out how to best use the land to meet diverse needs," said Madhu Khanna, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Distinguished Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois and lead author of a new study.

"We need to explore opportunities for ‘sustainable intensification' which allow us to increase productivity while reducing environmental harm. More research is needed, including looking at ways in which the recent emergence of big data-enabled precision agriculture can intensify agricultural production sustainably."

Researchers identify the need to build capacity for systems-based approaches that consider both the environment and agriculture. One strategy is to closely connect the values of the environment to consumers along with the costs to producers to design objectives that further the quality of the environment.

"We need to be looking not just at what the technologies are and what their environmental benefits are but also at their economic effects so that we can weigh the trade-offs involved," Khanna said.

The study also suggests future research should explore integrating data on soil quality, climate, land use, economic effects and farmer decisions to develop strategies for sustainable land use. Alongside those strategies, the researchers say, more effective and implementable policies for reducing non-point pollution and more insight into what drives farmer behavior need to be considered.

Wheat forecast

U.S. farmers are expected to harvest their smallest winter wheat crop in more than a decade amid an ongoing drought that has devastated fields across the nation's breadbasket and a global surplus of the grain that has depressed prices.

The Associated Press reported the National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast the size of the nation's 2018 wheat crop at 1.19 billion bushels. If realized, that would be down 6 percent from the previous year.

The last time the nation's farmers harvested such a small wheat crop was in 2002, when U.S. production fell to 1.137 billion bushels, said Marsha Boswell, spokeswoman for the industry group Kansas Wheat.

"It is not a surprise that production is down; the market is not really telling people to plant wheat," Boswell said.

Not only are projected U.S. wheat yields down to an average 48 bushels per acre, but the agency also is forecasting that just 24.8 million acres of wheat will be harvested -- a record low harvested acreage for the United States.

Kansas remained the nation's top winter wheat producer with the government estimating that state's growers will bring in 270.1 million bushels. That's compared to the 333.6 million bushels harvested last year.

Winter wheat is planted in the fall and typically harvested beginning in June in Kansas. Drought conditions have plagued this year's crop, and it remains to be seen whether the state will get enough moisture to fill out the heads of wheat.