Date of this Version
University of Nebraska–Lincoln Office of Research and Economic Development (2010). Proceedings of the 2010 Water for Food Conference. Lincoln.
Important to Nebraska and Important Globally
Ken Cassman offered three thoughts to guide the Water for Food Institute: 1) engaging young people is important; 2) irrigated agriculture has a reputation, even in Nebraska, as being bad for the environment and the economy, yet irrigated agriculture will play a significant role in a Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa, although that role has yet to be defined; and 3) research and education conducted at the institute must benefit Nebraska, contribute to the university’s land-grant mission and be fundamentally important internationally. “What that means to me is the institute, early on, has to be very successful at picking foci and priorities for their efforts that can be articulated very clearly as important to Nebraskans and important globally,” Cassman said.
Because resources won’t be enough for separate agendas, issues the institute focuses on must benefit Nebraska’s interests and international interests while using the same teaching and research expertise.
Cassman said one example would be to answer the questions: Can high-yield, irrigated agriculture be sustainable in terms of food supply, economics and social acceptance? How can policymakers be convinced that irrigation is sustainable? How can purchasers or donors be convinced that irrigated agriculture can be part of development plans?
A second example might be to conduct life cycle assessments of agricultural systems’ water footprints. For example, studies demonstrate that lettuce grown efficiently and trucked elsewhere contributes fewer greenhouse gases than locally produced lettuce. Similarly, feedlot cattle have lower greenhouse gas emissions per unit of meat produced than do grass-fed beef. Understanding agriculture’s water footprint will require interdisciplinary integration, Cassman said.
An Unbiased Source of Information
Eugene Glock emphasized the importance of compiling and disseminating information. “If you’re trying to push it on people, it’s not going to happen. But if you can show people some way that it’s going to benefit them personally, economically, socially, some way that it will be helpful, they’ll adopt that pretty quickly.” He gave the example of high-pressure pivot irrigation, which uses less water. Although lower pressure pivots are less expensive, when diesel fuel reached $4 per gallon and it cost up to $30,000 to add an inch of water to a field, people reconsidered high-pressure irrigation. “That’s what we have to strive for, and that’s what this institute has to have a hand in doing – getting people excited about doing something that is right, not trying to force them,” Glock said.
He also urged the institute to avoid becoming a lobbying agency, but rather to be available to help policymakers make good decisions. Glock, who was the state agriculture representative on former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey’s staff, said he believes policymakers need an unbiased center to help determine worthwhile projects to fund.