Fall 2015

A Sustainable Agriculture?

G. Philip Robertson

The defining challenge of sustainable agriculture is the production of food and other agricultural products at an environmental cost that does not jeopardize the food security and general welfare of future generations. Feeding another three billion people in the face of climate change, biodiversity loss, and an environment already saturated with excess nitrogen and other reactive pollutants requires new approaches and new tools in the design and deployment of workable solutions. Solutions will be local but all will require an ecological systems approach that considers sustainable farming practices in the full context of ecosystems and landscapes. And their deployment will require an understanding of the social systems capable of building incentives that produce socially desired outcomes. Socioecological models for agriculture provide an opportunity to explore feedbacks, trade-offs, and synergies that can optimize and strengthen emerging connections between farming and society. With the right incentives, innovative research, and political will, a sustainable agriculture is within our reach.

G. PHILIP ROBERTSON is University Distinguished Professor and Professor of Ecosystem Science at Michigan State University's W.K. Kellogg Biological Station and Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences. He has authored over 150 scientific articles and edited several books, the most recent of which is The Ecology of Agricultural Landscapes: Long-Term Research on the Path to Sustainability (edited with Stephen K. Hamilton and Julie E. Doll, 2015).

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