Part Two: Conversation with Noted Soil Scientist John P Reganold
John P. Reganold is in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Washington State University.
In a recent article you spoke about transforming American agriculture so that we have:
Healthy, innovative farming systems that are producing high quality food. And as it’s as much market, and policy issues as it is science and technology.
Will you just give a little bit more detail on that?
JR:Oh yeah, well I think certainly we’re going to improve our farming systems with science, and we’re also going to improve those systems with the farmers themselves. I mean, the farmers themselves have actually done a lot of work to make our farming systems more efficient. They actually help research it out for us. But we — all that said, and we’ll continue to do that in the future, and that continues to need to be done. But we have good farming practices now. We have many of the solutions now to halt erosion, soil degradation, reduce greenhouse gases from agriculture, reduce pollution. We have all those things; we know what to do to reduce them. But the problem is, the markets don’t support it number one, and the policies don’t support it completely. And so I think if markets supported more sustainable food production systems; that would be one way. So to do that you know — and that’s happening slowly.
We actually have people that want to buy, they want to buy local, they want to know who’s producing their food, and so they’ll go to a farmers market or they’ll join the CSA or they’ll just be, they’re real careful when they go to the market what they’re buying. They’ll want to see how far its been shipped. They’ll eat more winter crops in the winter, and more summer crops in the summer, and try not to eat food that’s been shipped from long distances. So we have that, but it would great if we had policies that supported more sustainable food production systems, and there are a number of those, Conservation Ag is one, and organic is one. Mixed Crop Livestock Systems are another, and I talk about that in the article. And so it’s really getting policies in place that help support the markets, and it’s also having policies in place that support sustainable agriculture. So one of them obviously is the farm bill that they deciding right now. But there’s other bills, there’s other policies. And it would be great if those policies were aligned better to support more sustainable systems.
AH:What should be the focus of global attention in regards to food science, and technology?
JR:We tend to want to focus on simple tech, you know, single technologies that we think offer a wider array of solutions, one thing. And as human beings, we’re kind of built that way when we go to the doctor, we’d rather have the doctor say, “Well take this pill and you’ll be fine”, versus, “Listen, you’ll be a lot better if you walk more, eat less, and eat more fruits and vegetables.” That’s much more difficult.
So what I think in farming what would be great is if we tend to support research that looks at the farm as a system. So we look at really these farms as being multifunctional systems or organisms that have to do more than just produce abundant yields or sufficient yields. They also have to build soil, and protect the environment, and be good for the community. And I know that sounds kind of utopian, but I think the issue has been we’ve concentrated so much on the yield part of the equation that we’ve let the other pieces, the environmental part, and the social part, and even sometimes the economic part fall to the wayside.