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Scientists call for increased federal investment in sustainable agriculture

July 28, 2016

Amsterdam, July 28, 2016 - Based on a new analysis of federal funding from the US Department of Agriculture, researchers say there is an urgent need for increased investment in research and development aimed at making sustainable food production more effective. The article published in Environmental Science & Policy has been selected for the Elsevier Atlas Award of June 2016.

An estimated 25-35% of global greenhouse gases are produced from agriculture. Modern agriculture also contributes to the loss of biological diversity, habitat loss, water pollution, degradation of soil quality, and loss of beneficial organisms including pollinators and animals that keep pests under control, but which pose a risk to human health through pesticide exposure and excess nitrogen in drinking water. Sustainable agriculture, including practices such as organic farming and crop rotation, has the potential to alleviate many environmental problems and health risks associated with the modern industrial agricultural system.

"Quite frankly, we have to make this transition to sustainable agriculture," said Liz Carlisle of the University of California, Berkeley and corresponding author of the study. "The question is: can we be proactive about it so that our institutions and economy are prepared to make the transition in a more intentional way and can we be sure that all rural communities will have access [to sustainably produced goods]. We don't want another unjust system like we have now in which some people eat and farm organically and others are stuck with agricultural toxins in their water supply and fast food for dinner."

To assess the level of political and economic support for sustainable agriculture, Carlisle and her colleagues Albie Miles at the University of Hawai'i - West Oahu and Marcia DeLonge of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C. identified USDA-funded projects beginning in 2014 and searched key sections of project reports for major components emphasizing sustainable agriculture. Those components were grouped into four categories: improving system efficiency to reduce inputs including fertilizers and pesticides, substituting more sustainable inputs and practices into farming systems, redesigning agricultural systems based on ecological principles, or strengthening connections between producers and consumers.

The team searched 824 projects accounting for almost $300 million in funding or about 10% of the 2014 USDA Research, Extension, and Economics budget. In many cases, sustainable agriculture was included in projects but not as the primary focus. The findings suggest that significant improvements in sustainable agriculture could be made with additional investments and support. The researchers note an urgent need for additional public funding for research aimed to advance highly promising areas of biologically diversified farming and ranching systems.

"Prior to this, there was no clear accounting of how much funding had gone for agro-ecological research," DeLonge said. "We knew anecdotally that there was a need for more funding, but we needed to understand the numbers better and to understand what research areas might hold the most untapped potential."
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Notes for editors

The article is "Investing in the transition to sustainable agriculture," by Marcia DeLonge, Albie Miles and Liz Carlisle (doi: 10.1016/j.envsci.2015.09.013). It appears in Environmental Science & Policy, volume 55, part 1 (2016), published by Elsevier.

This article is published open access and available on ScienceDirect.

Journalists who would like more information or want to interview the authors are welcome to contact Jason Awerdick at j.awerdick@elsevier.com or +1 212 633 3103.

About Environmental Science & Policy

Environmental Science & Policy promotes communication among government, business and industry, academia, and non-governmental organizations who are instrumental in the solution of environmental problems. It also seeks to advance interdisciplinary research of policy relevance on environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity, environmental pollution and wastes, renewable and non-renewable natural resources, sustainability, and the interactions among these issues.

About Atlas, Research for a better world

Science impacts everyone's world. With over 1,800 journals publishing articles from across science, technology and health, our mission is to share some of the stories that matter. Each month Elsevier's Atlas showcases research that can significantly impact people's lives around the world or has already done so. We hope that bringing wider attention to this research will go some way to ensuring its successful implementation.

With so many worthy articles published the tough job of selecting a single article to be awarded "The Atlas" each month comes down to an Advisory Board. The winning research is presented alongside interviews, expert opinions, multimedia and much more on http://www.elsevier.com/atlas.

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions -- among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Elsevier Research Intelligence and ClinicalKey -- and publishes over 2,500 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and more than 35,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a world-leading provider of information and analytics for professional and business customers across industries. http://www.elsevier.com

Media contact

Jason Awerdick
Elsevier
+1 212 633 3103
J.Awerdick@elsevier.com

Elsevier

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