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Our real challenge appears to be anticipating what the major challenges and constraints will be to food production and distribution a decade or more into the future. This could be called ‘Beyond the Horizon’ thinking. Today there is little disagreement over the massive depletion on a global scale of two essential inputs to agriculture: fossil fuels and fresh water. We also recognize that phosphorus is found in concentrated form in only a few deposits in nature, and that agriculture is rapidly using this limited resource and dispersing it through harvested products and soil loss from fields in forms that make it economically unavailable for recycling. Less recognized is the increasing occurrence of severe weather events. As pointed out by Forum Editor Fred Kirschenmann, we are moving from two centuries of relatively benign climate that was highly conducive to stable agricultural yields to a time of more frequent droughts, floods and other potentially disruptive weather events. Are we effectively developing a food production system that will give resilience in the face of uncertainty and major fluctuations in natural conditions? Or do we see the future as a simple extrapolation of the past?
Among the characteristics that we consider likely to embody future agriculture, looking ‘Beyond the Horizon’ as a group, we consider it important to study and develop systems that:
Depend largely on contemporary energy, current sunlight rather than scarce fossil fuels.
Make highly efficient use of limited water supplies, saving expensive irrigation for production of high-value crops.
Integrate crops and animals in ways that cycle and make efficient use of nutrients.
Make efficient use of human urine and feces as well as those from domestic animals, an essential step in nutrient cycling for the future.
Display biodiversity and resilience in the face of unpredictable and extreme weather events.
Favor owner-operated and managed farms of a reasonable scale that contribute to local economies and food systems.
Encourage beginning farmers, women entrepreneurs and minority groups to become more active in the commercial food system.
Reflect the unique role of local people and groups in human-managed agroecosystems.
Recognize the overriding importance of ecology and uniqueness of place in the design of agricultural systems.