Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2012 12:00 PM
By DOUG WARNOCK
For the Capital Press
'How to Feed 9 Billion People from the Ground Up" was the theme of the 11th annual Quivira Coalition Conference I attended in Albuquerque, N.M., Nov. 14-16.
It's a tall order, you might say, especially with a portion of the current world's population already suffering from malnutrition or outright starvation. This question was addressed by speakers who looked at soil, water, seeds, plants, livestock, organics and people in discussing how each of these could contribute to producing and distributing enough food to the world's expanding population.
The Quivira Coalition is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building economic and ecological resilience in Western working landscapes. Its formation brought together ranchers, conservationists, scientists and public land managers to work together and demonstrate that ecologically sensitive ranch management can be compatible with economically viable ranches.
This year's conference speakers included scientists, conservationists, consultants, educators and agricultural producers from the U.S., Canada and Australia. Attendees represented diverse backgrounds, but all are interested in feeding the world.
"Productivity does not assure food security. We must get food to those who need it," said Molly Jahn, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"Nutritional deficiencies are a challenge that should be addressed," said Michael Mazourek, a researcher at Cornell University.
Jill Clapperton, Lethbridge Research Center, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, spoke about the importance of soil health to healthy plants, which leads to having healthy animals and healthy humans. The population of soil organisms, which is key to healthy soil, depends on having high soil organic matter.
Gabe Brown, a farmer-rancher from North Dakota, talked about the holistic regeneration of his farm. He mixes crop production and livestock grazing in the same fields, resulting in improved yields and healthier soil.
The importance of water to agricultural production and the need to increase water use efficiency, both in irrigated and dryland agriculture, was discussed by Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project in Los Lunas, N.M.
The need for increased diversity on farms and ranches was discussed by Miguel Altieri, University of California-Berkley. He recommends an environmentally friendly approach to food production.
Recovering from a disaster resulted in positive change for Colin Seis in New South Wales, Australia. After his place was burned out, he started over with a new approach. Combining pasture cropping and controlled grazing on his farm has improved soil health and increased profit.
The value of grazing animals as a tool for improving the world's grasslands, which account for about two-thirds of the land area, was stressed by Allan Savory, internationally recognized management specialist. He made a strong case for changing governmental policies that stand in the way of improving land management.
Jim Howell, co-founder of the Savory Institute and director of Grasslands LLC, spoke of the destructive results of over resting grasslands and the benefits of holistic, planned grazing.
The important role of trees in enhancing ecosystem health was addressed by Gloria Flora, a forestry consultant from Helena, Mont. Other speakers discussed the role that organic food production can play in providing high quality, healthful food.
This diverse group of presenters all expressed a belief that feeding an increased world population is possible, but some changes in methods and policies are necessary.
Doug Warnock, retired from Washington State University Extension, lives on a ranch in the Touchet River Valley where he consults and writes on ranch management.