Agriculture Forum: Enhancing environmental quality

In this six-part series, we are discovering what sustainability on Michigan farms means, looking at examples of how farms are demonstrating that sustainability, and how the Michigan State University Extension is working with producers to become even more sustainable.
As a reminder, the definition that is used by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program for sustainable agriculture is: “Sustainable agriculture is defined as an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term: satisfy human food and fiber needs, enhance environmental quality and the natural resources base upon which the agricultural economy depends, make the most efficient use of non-renewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls, sustain the economic viability of farm operations, enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.” This third article’s specific topic is “Enhancing environmental quality and the natural resources base upon which the agricultural economy depends.” Although enhancing our environmental quality and natural resource base may seem difficult, it nonetheless is critical for agriculture and for our communities that rely on the food that agriculture produces.
But without an enhanced environmental quality and natural resource base, those gains will be short lived.
Michigan farmers continue to make improvements in this area, including being involved in voluntary programs such as the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).
So what does MSU Extension do to help support sustainability in this area of “Enhancing environmental quality and the natural resources base upon which the agricultural economy depends?” One example is how MSU Extension is working with farms to fully account for the nutrients that manure brings to the soil, and also the utilizing those nutrients to the greatest benefit of crops through proper timing of spreading.
When is the best time to spread manure for optimal crop production and minimize environmental losses?
The right timing depends on the manure-handling system, cropping system, field conditions, weather forecasts, time and labor available, volume of manure in the pit and many other factors.
The best answer is to know the risk factors during the time of manure application and minimize those risks while optimizing crop production with those additional manure nutrients.
To help solve this complex scenario, a new tool is available for Michigan livestock producers to use when making decisions on when and where to spread manure.
The Michigan State University EnviroImpact Tool is part of the Michigan Manure Management Advisory System that was been developed through a partnership between National Weather Service/NOAA, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), MSU Institute of Water Research, Michigan Sea Grant and MSU Extension.

Meeting the World’s Food, Water, and Energy Needs: A Reason for Optimism

Meeting the World’s Food, Water, and Energy Needs: A Reason for Optimism.
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that we will need to increase world food production by 60-70% to feed 9 billion people.
To keep up with population-driven food needs there will need to be an over 19% increase in water consumed just for agriculture.
Recent growth in non-renewable consumption has been particularly noticeable in the developing world, with China – – getting most of its energy from non-renewable sources.
Breakthroughs for water have come in three main areas: access, quality, and conservation.
Beyond health concerns around consumption, a lot of water worry centers around industrial production processes and “”—or goods that require a lot of water to be produced.
Food companies who rely on agriculture in their supply chain, such as , have moved production to less water scarce growing regions.
These companies have also invested time and effort in thinking about how to improve public policy around water management.
plans to grow to its reuse of sewage from 25% to 80% in the next 10 years.
Though the – China, the U.S., and India –still rely on and will rely on non-renewable sources to provide power for their economies for many decades into the future but the renewables are going to be an important part of the energy mix of the future.

11 percent of disappearing groundwater used to grow internationally traded food

11 percent of disappearing groundwater used to grow internationally traded food.
To produce these crops many countries rely on irrigated agriculture that accounts for about 70 percent of global freshwater withdrawals, according to the United Nations Water program.
A new study by researchers at the University College London and NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York City shows that 11 percent of the global non-renewable groundwater drawn up for irrigation goes to produce crops that are then traded on the international market.
Additionally, two-thirds of the exported crops that depend on non-renewable groundwater are produced in Pakistan (29 percent), the United States (27 percent), and India (12 percent).
Their analysis is the first to determine which specific crops come from groundwater reservoirs that won’t renew on human time-scales and where they are consumed.
"It’s important from Japan’s perspective to know whether that corn is being produced with a sustainable source of water, because you can imagine in the long term if groundwater declines too much, the United States will have difficulty producing that crop."
Countries that export and import these crops may be at risk in the future of losing the crops, and their profits, produced with non-renewable groundwater.
Aquifers form when water accumulates in the ground over time, sometimes over hundreds or thousands of years.
Non-renewable aquifers are those that do not accumulate rainfall fast enough to replace what is drawn out to the surface, either naturally to lakes and rivers or in this case by people via pumping.
"What’s innovative about this study is it connects groundwater depletion estimates with country level data," said hydrologist Matt Rodell at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who was not involved in the study.