Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A `Green Evolution' for US Agriculture

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A `Green Evolution' for US Agriculture

Article excerpt

AMERICAN farmers had good reason to celebrate National Agriculture Week, which ended last Saturday. American know-how has been at the forefront of the global "green revolution" over the past several decades. More people than ever are being fed by United States farmers, thanks to new technologies and greater efficiencies.

"An American cornucopia has been created that is the envy of the planet," Ralph Grossi, president of American Farmland Trust, told the Soil and Water Conservation Society in Kansas City, Mo.

But Mr. Grossi, a third-generation farmer from northern California, also had some sobering thoughts about the future of American agriculture in an age when astronomical budget deficits and increasing environmental concerns could mean big changes in federal farm policy.

For example, this country spends about $40 million a day on farm-support programs. But Grossi points out that "most of it is paid to a handful of producers, while the family farm is threatened." Meanwhile, he adds, "there is evidence that the expenditure actually worsens the environmental impact of agriculture."

Simply slashing farm support wouldn't solve the problem; in fact it could make it worse. Today, nearly 60 percent of total US agricultural production occurs in counties that are designated as metropolitan or are adjacent to major cities. Anything that reduces the economic viability of those areas in agriculture would simply accelerate their conversion to other uses - which already is happening at the rate of more than 2 million acres a year.

This farmland near urban areas often is of the best quality. Good weather, flat terrain, and proper drainage also make it easy to subdivide. This in turn puts pressure on marginal farmland - land that is more easily eroded, for example. Since it takes 30 years for nature to create an inch of topsoil, this is no small matter.

As the recent annual report by the Council on Environmental Quality points out, changing the use of rural land always seems to involve complex environmental consequences:

"Shifting land from other uses to crop production increases soil erosion and the risk of nutrient and pesticide contamination associated with current agricultural practices. …

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