Tim Fink, project associate for Solutions from the Land, gives a presentation at the Farmland Investment Fair sponsored by the Chicago Farmers.
Tim Fink, project associate for Solutions from the Land, gives a presentation at the Farmland Investment Fair sponsored by the Chicago Farmers.

JOLIET, Ill. — In 2009, a dialog was launched to bring together farmers, ranchers and foresters to develop solutions for challenges facing these industries.

Solutions from the Land was founded by the United Nations Foundation, Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy and Farm Foundation.

“We brought together people from all walks of life representing agriculture, forestry and ranching to look at where we are in agriculture in the U.S., where we want to be in the future and some of the challenges we are facing,” explained Tim Fink, project associate for Solutions from the Land during a presentation at the Farmland Investment Fair sponsored by the Chicago Farmers.

“We are going to release a paper that is the culmination of two years of work, and it will include a series of recommendations,” he explained.

Fink discussed several challenges facing those who own or manage land.

“By 2050, the population is expected to grow to 9.6 billion people, and we’re at 7 billion people right now,” he said. “And you add to that what is going on in China and India with the rising standards of living, we’re going to need to double our food production by 2050.”

Increasing severe weather events are challenging producers.

“In 2011, there were record crop insurance payouts, and 2012 is supposed to double that record,” the project associate said.

“Something is clearly happening with climate change, and that is having an impact on agriculture in the U.S.,” he noted.

“Looking at all these factors, we don’t want to be the group that says the sky is falling,” he added. “We want to articulate a positive vision.”

Farmers have experienced all sorts of challenges over the past century.

“We believe agriculture can rise to these challenges and not only meet them, but exceed them,” the specialist stressed. “So we have a new, shared vision urgently needed for higher efficiency, productivity and profitability.”

The vision of Solutions for the Land by 2050 is “agricultural systems and forests can be simultaneously managed to satisfy all the demand for food, feed, fiber and fuel; support economic growth and sustainable development; reduce hunger and malnutrition; improve soil, water and air quality; enhance biodiversity; and ensure ecosystem health including habitat and deliver mitigation solutions to mounting global warming challenges,” Fink said.

The target audience for this project is U.S. agriculture, forestry and conservation leaders.

“This will include people who are trusted sources for producers,” the specialist said. “We are collaborating with partners who embrace this vision, and after that we want to go out and find other information multipliers, including ag media, policymakers and even taking this conversation international to work with global partners.”

Solutions from the Land aims to work with people, Fink stressed.

“We don’t want to tell them how to run their operations,” he said. “In the short term, we will be promoting integration and implementation of the best solutions we have.”

One of the challenges facing the U.S. is the federal budget.

“Traditionally, the farm bill has been the best means of achieving conservation goals, but we’re facing a limited budget,” Fink noted.

“There are things government can do that will be incredibly helpful such as expanding research, making sure we’re looking ahead and giving farmers the tools they need,” he said. “We’re also looking at what we can do in private partnerships, things like water quality training and setting up ecosystem services.”

Declining investments in research and innovation is another challenge.

“We need to make sure we’re going to continue to be the world leader in agriculture, and we have a new generation of people doing research to make that possible,” Fink stressed. “We also need to make sure the research is integrated and relative to farmers and they have a hand in participating in the research to choose some of the priorities.”

Some consumers are demanding ecosystem services and new sustainability standards that farmers are forced to adapt to achieve market access.

“Our concern is that these sustainability standards reflect what’s practical for the farmers,” the specialist said.

Policy development needs to occur with a holistically approach, Fink added.

“Sometimes you are trying to achieve water quality, but what you’re implementing is not effective for air quality goals,” he said. “So we want to create flexibility and identify places where policies may be in contradiction to one another and harmonize them so they work better together.”

Farm productivity has continued to grow over the past several decades.

“Since 1950, farm productivity has been consistently going up and inputs are staying about the same if not decreasing,” Fink reported. “That’s the very direction we want to see things going. If farmers are able to use resources more efficiently, that’s less environmental impact and more money in their pockets.”

For more information about Solutions from the Land, visit www.sfldialogue.net.