In today’s complex world, solutions often require collaborative efforts among multiple stakeholders who, for different reasons, share a common goal. Achieving workable solutions requires understanding of various perspectives on the issue and a willingness or flexibility to adapt.
Some would call it the ability to reach a compromise—you take the time to understand my perspectives, I do the same with you, and we both identify a mutually agreeable path toward our common goal. Individually, we may have preferred different routes, but in the end, we both arrive at the same destination.
One of the many complex issues before us is the challenge of producing food, feed, fiber and energy while protecting natural resources. In the past, the federal government had a key role in helping resolve problems impacting society at large. Not so much anymore. In Congress, compromise is now a dirty word.
First, political turmoil combined with economic and budgetary issues, has constricted the ability and willingness of Congress to respond to critical societal needs, including those of rural America. Recent elections have gutted the political center from the U.S. Congress. First conservative Blue Dog Democrats were defeated in rural states that had produced advocates in agricultural policy matters. More recently, moderate Republicans and even conservatives in rural states, like Bob Bennett of Utah and Richard Lugar of Indiana, were defeated in the primaries.
Given how the U.S. House of Representatives was redistricted after the 2010 Census, it is likely that body will continue to support dramatic reductions in spending for conservation and ecoservices for some time to come.
Second, reducing “big government” is a priority of many politicians and special interests. There is also growing recognition that one-size, top-down programs do not always generate intended results.
Given all this, Solutions From the Land (SFL) is a breath of fresh air, offering a positive path forward against very stiff political headwinds.
I believe it is imperative that we find ways to minimize the environmental and climate impacts of agricultural production and use the best land management practices to protect natural resources. SFL is a framework around which multiple stakeholders can identify and enact land-based, scale-appropriate solutions. The SFL model already has a proven track record.
The Indian Creek Watershed Project in Livingston County, IL, provides farmers technical assistance on conservation measures designed to reduce nutrient runoff from fields. The goal is to involve half the watershed’s 50,000 acres; now in its third year, 43% of the watershed is involved.
This project was initiated by farmers of the Indian Creek Watershed, who were seeking economically-viable tools to conserve land and protect water quality by limiting nutrient runoff. For technical assistance, the farmers are partnering with the Conservation Technology Information Center—a non-profit public-private partnership that includes representatives from the agriculture industry, NGOs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Collaborators include the Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency which provides water quality testing, and a host of agricultural firms that provide conservation products for demonstrations.
Bottom line: Multiple stakeholders—farmers, landowners, NGOs and private companies, as well as local, state and federal agencies—are working together to identify land-based tools to reach a goal shared by all—preserving high-quality land and improving water quality. The potential for success is high because the tools fit the needs of the watershed. Tools put in place on one farm demonstrate the potential benefits to other farmers and landowners.
This is just one example of the SFL vision for land-based solutions for farmers, ranchers and the environment. The SFL report, Developing a New Vision for U.S. Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation, provides other examples and lays out major land management challenges and options to begin the discussion of how to address those challenges. If you haven’t yet seen the report, read it here today, and share it with others.
Let’s demonstrate to Congress what it means to work effectively for the good of all.