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US Farmers Suffer Under Public and Regulatory Pressure

Farming has always been hard, and in the last 50 years has become incrementally harder with the need to make more, pollute less, satisfy everyone while still supporting yourself.

All of this has to happen with increasingly scarce natural resources and the looming crisis of climate change and the effect farming is having on climate change. So it’s not surprising that there is a need to change and help the farming industry through these tough times.

“Many modern agricultural practices have unintended negative consequences, such as decreased water and air quality, and farmers have to consider these consequences while trying to increase production. If farmers are going to meet future demands, the U.S. agriculture system has to evolve to become sustainable and think broadly — past the bottom line of producing the most possible.”

“Although farming productivity has increased, nowadays farmers are being asked to do more than produce more food for a growing world population,” said Julia Kornegay, professor and head of the department of horticultural science at North Carolina State University, Raleigh and chair of the committee that wrote a report identifying the problems and ways to help the farming industry.

Farming has increased in productivity over the last 50 to 60 years, but in doing so has also become more harmful to the environment. Output has increased 158% from 1948 to 2008 and producing more food with less energy per unit output has increased over the last 50 years.

But the counterpoint to that is costly for the environment.

Water tables have declined significantly in some agricultural areas and in others pollution from fertilizers and pesticides have infected the nearby waterways creating oxygen starved zones in waterways like the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. Considering it’s size, the agricultural industry is also America’s largest contributor of two greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide and methane.

The report listed four goals that should be considered simultaneously to help achieve a sustainable agricultural system that also protects the livelihood of the farmers, more than half of which have to work off the farm to supplement their income and to obtain health care and retirement benefit plans;

* satisfy human food, fiber, and feed requirements, and contribute to biofuels needs

* enhance environmental quality and the resource base

* maintain the economic viability of agriculture

* improve the quality of life for farmers, farm workers, and society as a whole

Source: National Academy of Sciences

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