Sometimes I’m asked whether there’s a dichotomy in my job title: Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources. Our IFAS name reflects the times in which it was founded; it omits our natural resources mission. Even so, we’ve long known that farms must continue to deliver high yields while also protecting biodiversity, buffering against droughts and flooding, and taking carbon out of the air.
It’s still a valid question. Can IFAS help Florida farmers increase the amount of food they grow and simultaneously protect the health of the soil, water, and people who make this state one of the world’s leading winter fruit and vegetable sources?
We can. We do. We will.
In fact, being good stewards of the environment is how we ensure food production will be sustainable for future generations.
Two generations ago, Norman Borlaug transformed farming worldwide. He is credited with saving a billion lives with breakthroughs that increased agricultural productivity in developing nations. He relied largely on giving plants more food, water, and protection from pests. It was a more, more, more approach.
With Borlaug’s Green Revolution now some 50 years old, IFAS is writing the sequel. Our agricultural faculty and our natural resource faculty do an excellent job collaborating. We can accelerate progress, though, by developing expertise in simultaneously addressing production, environment, and society. This involves approaching research, teaching and Extension without the either/or proposition that specialization can produce.
We need that big-picture ag and natural resources outlook all in one brain. A focus on yield produced the food to stave off famine. Generations later a new set of complex sustainability challenges have emerged.
IFAS is building on Borlaug’s approach to consider agriculture’s impacts on environment and society – impacts that could ultimately threaten yield. It’s called agroecology.
IFAS is showing great leadership in advancing this transdisciplinary discipline. Diane Rowland in our Agronomy Department leads a worldwide agroecology network.
To that end, we are looking at the challenge of feeding the world in a new way. Agroecology is not an oxymoron. Its the opportunity to lead the way to a transformation as life-changing as Borlaug’s revolution.