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by Erin McGinn
11-September-2007 via Agbios

With provisions relating to nearly every crop grown for food, feed, fiber and renewable fuel in the United States, as well as conservation, nutrition, rural development and other programs, the 2007 farm bill probably has more stakeholders than any other legislation being considered by Congress.

While Farm Bureau has a comprehensive scorecard to measure the utility of farm bill proposals, other groups also weigh in. Some are multi-issue groups, while others are single-issue coalitions. One topic that has drawn attention is that of “sustainable agriculture.”

According to the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, sustainable agriculture integrates three goals: environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity.

Under federal law, the more extensive definition of sustainable agriculture also includes practices that will, over the long-term, satisfy human food and fiber needs, sustain the economic viability of farm operations and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

Whether you look at the long or the short of it, neither definition of sustainable agriculture references “organic.” However, many environmental groups and sustainable agriculture advocates firmly link the two, at times using organic as a synonym for sustainable agriculture.

In the absence of a clear definition, it is important to shift the focus slightly from sustainable agriculture to agricultural practices and innovations that can sustain the world – particularly in light of exploding population growth, unprecedented before the 20th Century. Organic agriculture definitely has a well-earned spot in the marketplace, but most experts agree that organic production alone cannot feed the world.

At the same time the world’s population is increasing, the amount of land suitable for farming and ranching is decreasing.

That’s the challenge for growers of today and, even more so, tomorrow: Producing more and better quality crops to meet humans’ increasing nutritional demands on less and less land, using methods that protect the environment.

U.S. farmers and ranchers have yet to let us down. Along with a long-standing tradition of clearing the highest of hurdles, U.S. producers have biotechnology on their side.

Researchers at Monsanto, an agricultural company that is big on biotechnology, spend approximately $2 million each day on, among other things, corn that is drought-tolerant, uses nitrogen more efficiently so less fertilizer has to be used and produces higher yields.

In addition, Monsanto researchers are advancing seed technology to provide higher quality animal feed and higher oil content for food and fuel production. Innovations are also dedicated to ensuring an environment in which agriculture production can flourish. For the company, that logic is simple: If farmers have no reason to get up and go to work, neither will Monsanto employees.

Agricultural practices and innovations that will sustain American farmers and the world’s population are not exclusively biotech-driven, leaving plenty of room for organic and non-traditional approaches to farming. However, biotech’s role in helping U.S. farmers and ranchers continue to provide one of the world’s safest and most affordable food supplies, particularly in the future, is undeniably growing in importance.

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