Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
on acquiring new knowledge, development and
implementation of very specific concepts and
practices associated with production strategies
and (or) environmental concerns almost exclu-
sively for current mainstream, conventional
farming systems. Examples from animal agri-
culture include how to utilize dietary nutrients
and energy more efficiently, or to reduce the
excretion of methane and N, or how to improve
reproductive management of a herd. Whereas
these are important issues in the present sys-
tems and could benefit from improvement,
they frankly are not currently the most urgent
challenges for long-term sustainable animal
agriculture. Incremental improvements or
mitigation of negative outcomes of animal-
biological processes are useful, but do not nec-
essarily help us rethink or redesign whole
system(s) towards improving sustainability
performance across many farms, regardless of
size or farming methods. These individual dis-
coveries and practices are rarely considered
and studied in the more comprehensive inte-
grated 'systems context' (Fig. 18.1). Only later,
after implementation, are unintentional con-
sequences oftentimes discovered. Although the
incremental approach offers discovery and
demonstration of useful specific practices, it is
not adequate or appropriate to address multi-
ple, complex sustainability concerns.
The report stressed that more research
must address the multiple dimensions of sus-
tainability and understand agro-ecosystem
properties and interrelationships if systemic
changes in farming systems are to be pursued
(NRC, 2010). Thus, the incremental approach,
perhaps helpful to discover single or a few ele-
ments or strategies to improve sustainability,
must be supplemented and greatly reinforced
by what the committee termed this 'transforma-
tive approach'. This approach would enhance
greatly integrative exploration of sustainability
by multidisciplinary efforts exploring well
beyond agro-ecological dimensions. The trans-
formative approach considers ways to change
the whole system, rather than simpler singular,
one-at-a-time incremental developments.
Transformative examples in animal agriculture
might include alternative mixed plant-animal
agriculture systems (e.g. grass-fed-finished beef
value chains, combination organic milk and
dairy-beef production, or poultry-catfish farms).
The transformative approach must employ rig-
orous systems science approaches (NRC, 2010).
This will be essential to build the understanding
of agriculture as a part of the larger complex
socio-ecological system(s), for which research
must identify and understand the importance of
the linkages among farming components, the
resource base and societies (Fig. 18.1), and how
their interconnectedness and interrelationships
with the environment make systems strong,
adaptable and harmless or even beneficial to the
environment and society through time. This is
not a new conceptual approach (Douglass,
1984; Lowrance et al ., 1986).
Thus, the appropriate and relevant
incremental efforts simply would become a
sub- set of efforts embedded within the holistic
systems-based transformative framework.
This would elevate the crucial nature of sys-
tems thinking to the highest order for long-
term development of sustainable agriculture,
including animal agriculture. To pursue this
change, the committee proposed major re-
orientation of publicly funded agriculture
research and education to better embrace and
accelerate discovery and to direct development
long-term sustainability efforts for agriculture
(Reganold et al ., 2011).
However, more importantly, the commit-
tee also argued that currently, at least in the
USA, the major impediments to rapid adoption
of sustainable farming systems and innovative
practices are lack of forward-thinking policy
adoption and market structure challenges;
much more than a need for more and new
research and innovation. Progress forward to
more sustainable systems is to a significant
degree hindered by current market structures,
misplaced or misinformed policy incentives, and
uneven development and availability of scien-
tific information to inform farmers' decisions
about more sustainable systems (Fig. 18.4;
adapted from Reganold et al ., 2011).
Overall, the committee identified three
key drivers to shift the paradigm towards more
sustainable agriculture thinking and doing,
presumably including animal agriculture:
(i) changes in markets; (ii) changes in federal,
state and local policies; and (iii) changes in
government funding priorities. The committee
noted that current trends in marketing of
agricultural products are largely driven by
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