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Vilsack: Farmers Urged to Support Sustainable Farming

Farmers at the Resilient Agriculture Conference Wednesday at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, were urged to take steps to increase the sustainability and resilience of their operations as a hedge against the increasing risks of variable and unpredictable weather.

“It’s difficult to talk about climate change because it’s become so political, and that’s a shame,” said Fred Yoder, a corn and soybean farmer from Plain City, Ohio, and former National Corn Growers Association president. “We get hung up on whether it’s man-made or natural. It’s time to stop talking about assigning blame, and find ways to adapt to feed 9 billion people by 2015 in a sustainable way way that will not hurt the environment.”

The three-day Conference is cohosted by the USDA’s Sustainable Corn Project and the 25x’25 Alliance. The Project includes scientists at 10 Midwest land-grant universities and the USDA Agricultural Research Service at Columbus, Ohio. It gathers data from 35 field sites and thousands of farmers in nine Midwestern states including Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Minnesota, and South Dakota.

“There are increasing signs that cropping systems of corn-corn or corn-soybean rotations don’t have a light environmental footprint,” said Lois Wright Morton, the project’s director and a social scientist at Iowa State University. “Hypoxic conditions in the Gulf of Mexico point to nitrogen, phosphorous, and soil losses from our fields and farms. Soil erosion from single high-precipitation events is taking away valuable soil needed to grow future crops.”

USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke via phone immediately preceding the conference. He prefaced his comments with a reference to the ongoing U.S./Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. “We’ve been having some of the same conversations here this week about how to increase agricultural production at the same time as we’re managing the risks of a changing climate,” he said. “The future is likely to include rising temperatures that lengthen the growing season and potentially increase production, but also more extreme weather events and added pest and disease risks that could substantially reduce crop production.”

Vilsack also cited recent USA efforts focusing on this issue, including the third National Climate Assessment Report released in May, the new Greenhouse Gas report quantifying uniform scientific methods for measuring increases in gases and carbon storage, as well as U.S. participation in the Global Research Alliance to identify practices leading to sustainability and resiliency.

More than 120 members of the Sustainable Corn Project team are attending the conference, where scientists are sharing their research and some of their preliminary findings.

The conference also includes about 35 Sustainable Corn graduate students, the next generation of scientists, and a number of youth who plan to become the next generation of farmers.

Today’s events feature hands-on activities in the field as well as scientific presentations and a farmer panel discussion. On Thursday, the 25x’25 Alliance will present recommendations for climate adaptation, followed by a panel of industry leaders who will discuss cutting-edge technologies and the development of a sustainable value chain.

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