I recently had the privilege of attending and participating in the Water for Food global conference in Seattle. As an irrigation professional for most of my adult life, I listen to the dialogue in such conferences with a tainted opinion. I know we will have the solutions it will take to feed and clothe the world's population in 2050. We will even have the luxury of being able to produce excess biomass for energy and other bio-based products. The question is, will the marketplace, public policy and society allow us to execute and meet the challenge?
I make the above statement based sheerly upon science. However, advancing and sustaining the global agricultural system requires a balanced, three-pronged approach, with equal regard for social, environmental and economic considerations. An environmental system will not work without supporting social and economic systems. A social system will fail without a healthy economic and environmental system, while the best economic system can cripple social and environmental systems. Finding a balance is key.
It is also important to recognize the need for sustainability strategies to be locally adaptable. In an extreme example, it is clear that farming in Arizona looks much different than it does in my home state of Michigan, and it should. Social, economic and environmental systems vary by field, farm, locale, region and country. Too often, public policy is written in one-size-fits-all mode and it is ineffective because it is irrelevant when applied locally. While global, national and regional agricultural policies are important, such policies have to be adaptable to harmonize with field-level, social, environmental and economic needs.
So why is any of this important? The readers of this blog represent a local piece of the global agricultural system. There are many voices being heard about what agriculture should be doing, or not doing, to meet the needs of a growing global population. Unfortunately, agriculture has become so productive; we need fewer people to feed the world. Our voices are often drowned out by uninformed opinions, or worse, absent from the discussions that decide what agriculture should look like in the future.
In this age of non-stop news and viral social media, it is more important now than ever to participate in the dialogue and tell The Precision Irrigation Story to those involved in rule making and governance at all levels impacting agriculture.
Tip O'Neill once said, "All politics is local." I think this is particularly true with agriculture. Especially precision irrigated agriculture.
Speaking up should be easy. The irrigation industry, particularly Valley®, has a great story to tell. We have developed the means to surgically apply precise amounts of water where it is needed, when it is needed, with variable rate application technology. We are developing mechanisms to empower growers to share and consume information across a variety of farm management systems (BaseStation3™ and Irrigation Exchange™), leading to a more holistic approach to water management in harmony with telematics, sensors, biotechnology, software and supporting infrastructure. The tools are there now and they are continuing to expand and get better every day. And the good news, it’s working!
In the U.S., we are using less water than we did in 1970. Things like this don't happen by accident. Improving the way we irrigate has been a big contributing factor. Agricultural output continues to increase while inputs decrease. We are also proving that land can be farmed and made better at the same time. Farming is not linear, it is cyclical, as is water. Each time we place that seed in the soil represents renewed opportunity. So too, the practice of precision irrigation can represent a regenerative step in the hydrologic cycle.
At the Water for Food conference I kept hearing a term I have grown very fond of over the last several weeks: "sustainable intensification." It provides opportunities for optimizing crop production per unit area, taking into consideration the range of sustainability aspects including potential and/or real social, political, economic and environmental impacts.
Our commitment is to continue to develop more and better precision irrigation tools to help fulfill that goal. Be proud of what you do in precision irrigated agriculture and thank you for making Valley your partner in precision irrigation.