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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century
Examine the potential for a systems-approach to farming to contribute to national economic, environmental, social, and public health goals and explore how other nations have pursued these goals in the context of agricultural sustainability;
Identify and evaluate the factors, including structural changes in agribusiness, changing consumer preferences and market incentives, international trade, environmental impacts, and government programs and policies that influence the adoption of farming practices and systems that contribute to those goals.
In addition to gaining information from the literature, the committee will carry out a detailed examination of individual production systems, including several described in the 1989 report. A retrospective look at those farming operations will reveal whether the economic and other intended benefits of the practices and systems in place at that time have met their potential or have otherwise been challenged over the years. Additional case studies that represent unique production systems or incorporate novel practices, including examples from outside of the United States, will also be explored.
At the conclusion of its study, the committee will produce a comprehensive report of its findings on the science and policy influences on systems-based agriculture. The report will include:
An overview of the current dimensions of U.S. agriculture in both the domestic and world economies;
A description of problems in the farm economy and challenges in agricultural production that are driving changes in approaches to farm management in the U.S. and abroad;
An update of the 1989 report’s review of the economics of alternative farming systems and of methods used to develop cost and productivity comparisons at different levels of analysis, such as the level of individual components of an enterprise, the level of the whole farm, or regional, national, and international levels;
An analysis of progress made in the scientific understanding of systems farming and of the scientific evidence for the contribution of specific practices to the objectives of maintaining yields, conserving soil, and maintaining water quality, among other goals;
An evaluation of the transferability of systems and practices to different agricultural settings;
Detailed descriptions of the case studies, including general information about the production operation and its physical and capital characteristics, features of the management systems being used, and indicators of productivity, environmental, and financial performance. For case studies described in the 1989 report, the description will include a retrospective review of the past performance and the evolution of decision making by those producers over time.
Supported by the findings and conclusions of the study, the committee will recommend research and development needs for advancing a systems approach to farming and suggest ways to strengthen federal policies and programs related to improving agricultural production while reducing its impact on the environment.