Sustainable Ag: the Agriculture Innovation Agenda

Yesterday, the U.S.D.A. introduced its Agriculture Innovation Agenda, an ambitious plan that seeks to increase U.S. agricultural production by 40% while reducing the ag industry’s environmental footprint by 50% in 30 years.

The U.S.D.A. is interested in providing farmers, ranchers, producers, and foresters the educational tools needed to sustainably manage the land. This comes from a recognized need to transform agricultural practices in order to meet the food, feed, fiber, fuel, and climate demands of the future.   

By 2050, our population will rocket to 9 billion. In order to accommodate this many people, it is estimated that global food production will need to increase by 70%. Increasing our agricultural production by 40% will certainly soften the blow; however, this is only if certain measures are taken.  

What is the Problem with our Current Ag Industry?

Well, there are actually many problems with the current agricultural industry. 

For starters, it is not sustainable. And by this, we mean it cannot last the way it is. 

Poor agricultural methods have led to land degradation, which in turn has lowered crop yields and polluted the planet. Methods like tilling, excessive fertilizer and pesticide use, and monoculture have all contributed to these outcomes. 

Monoculture and Tilling: A Lethal Pair

When farmers till the land, they churn the soil to prepare it for new crops. This is because farmers practice monoculture, which entails planting one type of crop (usually an annual crop, which needs to be replanted each year). The problem with this method is that it decreases the quality of the soil. 

Annual crops have shorter roots than perennial crops because they die within a year. Shorter roots cannot collect as much water and nutrients as longer roots can, which leads to erosion and less carbon sequestration. So planting annual crops isn’t as sustainable as planting perennial crops.

In addition, when these plants are harvested, farmers will till the land, which destroys microbial colonies in the soil; releases carbon into the atmosphere; disturbs organic matter within the soil; and makes the soil more susceptible to erosion. 

After the plants are harvested and the soil is tilled, farmers will usually keep the soil bare. This damages the soil be exposing it harsh conditions (like rain, which can lead to erosion) and also releases carbon into the atmosphere. Without any plants to give the soil healthy organic matter, its nutrition content begins to dwindle.  

Excessive Fertilizer and Pesticide Use 

In addition to damaging the soil, farmers also pollute the air and water. 

In order to increase their yield and grow healthy crops, farmers will use fertilizer. It’s an essential tool and, when used correctly, can dramatically improve a country’s food security. But over the years, farmers have begun using too much fertilizer. The thought was that adding more fertilizer to their crops would increase their crop yield. But plants are only able to absorb a certain amount of nutrients. So all that excess fertilizer ends up sitting in the soil. 

This is problematic because those nutrients turn into pollutants when plants don’t use them. When nitrogen sits in the soil, soil microbes will consume it and release nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere. The phosphorous in fertilizer often ends up in streams and lakes, where it creates algae blooms that kill fish and pollute the water. 

Pesticide use, which has dramatically increased due to monoculture, has ended up hurting pollinators and other insects. Bee and firefly populations, for instance, have dwindled due to pesticides. Because one crop is grown, it is more susceptible to disease and pests. Just one ill plant or one colony of pests could wipe out an entire field. That is why crop rotations are so important. Growing more than one crop will help eliminate the possibility of losing an entire field. 

Of course, it’s not the farmer’s fault. Farmers want to be sustainable and they want to protect the land. After all, without the land, they’d have no crops and no business. And that is precisely why the U.S.D.A.’s new Agriculture Innovation Agenda is bound to work. We’ve already seen an increase in the amount of farmers seeking to practice regenerative agriculture. Now, all they need are the tools to make it happen. 

Six Benchmarks of the Agriculture Innovation Agenda

The U.S.D.A. plans to track its progress with six benchmarks: 

  • Agricultural Productivity: Increase agricultural production by 40% in 30 years 
  • Forest Management: Invest in Forest Management and Forest Restoration 
  • Food Loss and Waste: Reduce food loss and waste by 50% in 30 years 
  • Carbon Sequestration and Greenhouse Gases: Improve soil health to increase carbon sequestration; reduce ag industry’s carbon footprint in 30 years; improve fertilizer and manure management; protect carbon sinks; encourage no-till practices; and improve livestock production efficiency 
  • Water Quality: Reduce nutrient loss by 30% in 30 years and support existing watersheds
  • Renewable Energy: Increase biofuel feed-stock production and biofuel production efficiency. 

To increase agricultural production, farmers would need to switch to regenerative agriculture, which seeks to improve soil health. Improving soil health will reduce erosion; increase organic matter in the soil; support microbial communities; and improve crop nutritional content and yield. You can read more about regenerative agriculture on our blog

Innovative Solutions

Supporting the soil isn’t the only thing farmers will need to do in order to meet the U.S.D.A.’s goals. Improving fertilizer management by investing in innovative, ecofriendly alternatives will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient pollution. This will additionally help improve water quality.

xVital, our liquid nitrate fertilizer, is a superb alternative to conventional fertilizers. Because it contains only nitrate and ionized water, it does not pollute water resources. Our online ratio calculator ensures that only the necessary amount of fertilizer is applied to crops. But whatever is not absorbed by plants evaporates and does not convert to nitrous oxide. 

By investing in xVital, farmers will be able to dramatically improve water quality, reduce nutrient loss, increase agricultural productivity, and improve soil health. Learn more about xVital today and how it can support the new Agriculture Innovation Agenda.