ST. LOUIS — Scientists and academia gathered here to examine
and share agricultural practices regarding water resources, but the American
farmer never was far from the discussion.
A focus on nutrient management and water quality ultimately
must go back to the job farmers have done over the years, according to Karl
Williard, who chaired the specialty conference of the American Water Resources
Farmers don’t always get the recognition they deserve for
taking care of the land, according to Williard, a professor of forest hydrology
at Southern Illinois University’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
He agrees that modern agricultural practices are more
environmentally sustainable than those of decades ago.
“I don’t think we say that message loud and clear enough,”
he said. “You’re starting to hear that at meetings like this, but we need to do
a better job of communicating with the public the good things that producers all
over the country are doing in terms of implementing practices and taking care of
their land. They are the original stewards of their land. It’s a good thing to
hear that scientists recognize that.
“I grew up on a farm, so I understood that. My grandfather
was a farmer, and my dad was a farmer. It’s near to my heart. I think sometimes
they get a bad rap. Sometimes the general public doesn’t understand the land
ethic our producers have. Their connection to the land is a lot stronger than
that of the general public.”
While AWRA has annual conferences, this is only the second
at-large meeting focused on a specific topic — agricultural hydrology and water
quality. The first was held 10 years ago in Kansas City.
“I was fortunate enough to attend and participate in that,”
Williard said. “There wasn’t a follow-up until now. They knew I was doing work
in agriculture and water quality. They asked me to step up and lead it. We need
to do this again.”
Those attending included a number of scientists working for
federal agencies, but also those at non-governmental organizations such as the
Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund. Industry also had a
presence, as a Syngenta representative attended the conference.
Williard believes future meetings also should include
representatives of farm commodity groups.
“If we do this again, I’d like to see a bigger emphasis on
getting those folks to the table, too,” he said. “We need to get everybody
involved in agriculture to the table, so that we can hear, as scientists, in
terms of how are these practices are working and so that we can get more of that
information to the policymakers.”
Increasing demand for food and related resources demand
attention to sustainable methods of farming, AWRA members believe. Williard said
the environmental community and agriculture share the same goals.
“We have a growing world population. We need to grow more
food, but we need to do it in a sustainable way,” he said. “We also need to do
it with as minimal impact on the environment as we can. We know there is going
to be some impact on the environment, but we want to minimize that. The whole
agriculture community wants to minimize that.
“The good things I heard this week is that a lot of people
are focused on that. We realize we’re going to need to increase our food
production. We as a scientific community and policy community want to help
agriculture. We need to learn how we can do that in a sustainable way.”