September 17, 2010
On Thursday, September 16, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Organic Farming Research Foundation, Farm Foundation, National Academy of Sciences, and USDA sponsored an all-day symposium on the recently published National Research Council report Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century. The event, held at the National Press Club, was attended by 125 people, including researchers, farmers, policymakers, reporters, and interest group representatives.
As the day’s title — Leveraging New Insights to Accelerate Progress Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems — suggests, the presentations and discussion focused on how to speed the adoption of some of the NRC panel’s recommendations.
Introducing the day’s discussion were SARE’s Rob Hedberg, NSAC’s Ferd Hoefner and the Farm Foundation’s Neil Conklin, followed by short presentations by Julia Kornegay, the chair of the NRC committee that wrote the book, and by Ann Bartuska, the USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Extension.
They were followed by a panel that put the new report in the context of the first NRC sustainable agriculture report back in 1989 and the first USDA organic report from 1980. Iowa farmer Ron Rosmann, Utah State sociologist Douglas Jackson-Smith, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Ricardo Salvador did excellent jobs in framing the current day debate in the context of where we have been and where we need to urgently be moving.
The day’s second panel looked at market and policy drivers of change that help or hinder progress toward sustainable agriculture. Elysa Hammond from Clif Bar & Company, Mike Johnson from Syngenta Crop Protection, and Varel Bailey, a second Iowa farmer, made the presentations.
The third panel’s focus was on what needs to be done to accelerate progress. Making those presentations were Melissa Ho from the Congressional Research Service (and formerly with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), Nancy Creamer from the Center for Environmental Farming Systems at North Carolina State, and Margaret Krome from the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.
Kicking off the final “open mike” section of the symposium were Bob Scowcroft, Executive Director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, and Kitty Smith, Administrator of USDA’s Economic Research Service. A very lively discussion ensued, lasting right up through the 4 pm adjournment time and spilling out from there into the hallways for an informal extra hour.
There will be a transcript and audio from the symposium in the near future that will be available on the NSAC website as well as many of the websites of the other sponsoring organizations. We will let readers know when it is available.