Scientists call for extra agroecology funding

Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

More than 300 scientists have issued a statement calling on Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prioritise agroecology — the science of managing agricultural lands and minimising their impact on the environment — when funding agricultural research.

According to their statement, agroecology can increase land productivity while reducing the harm that conventional farming practices have had on public health, wildlife and air and water quality.

“As climate change and industrial agriculture create new problems, agroecologists are developing innovative, cost-effective solutions,” says Marcia DeLonge, agroecologist with the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “Congress and USDA need to recognise the opportunities in agroecology and ramp up research funding so that these solutions can be realised.”

DeLonge pointed to a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie that contaminated the water supply of Toledo, Ohio, and parts of southern Michigan last summer. The bloom formed because excess nutrients from fertilizers in agricultural runoff — a problem endemic to dominant conventional agriculture practices—spurred rapid and excessive growth of naturally occurring bacteria in the water. USDA quickly responded to the situation by pledging $2 million to help farmers in the region plant cover crops, an agroecological tactic used to minimize runoff.

Cover crops not only prevent erosion and water pollution, they also protect soil and increase its ability to hold water, helping crops withstand drought. Additionally, cover crops can reduce weed and pest problems in fields. Investments in cover crops and other agroecological practices could help Toledo and communities across the country avoid water contamination and other problems related to conventional agriculture in the future, while providing great benefits to farmers.

“The elegance of these types of practices is that agriculture and the environment work together,” said DeLonge.

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