Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
Land use changes may push ecosystem to tipping point

Land use changes may push ecosystem to tipping point

ARS scientist Peter O’Brien, from the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment assesses the establishment of a winter camelina cover crop following corn harvest near Ames, Iowa. Katherine Kral-O’Brien (D4547-1)

ARS scientist Peter O’Brien, from the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment assesses the establishment of a winter camelina cover crop following corn harvest near Ames, Iowa. 

Every producer needs to be aware of how their environment is going to change in the face of an evolving climate and shifts in land use, according to Dr. Peter O’Brien, a research agronomist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

The realm farmers work in is what he calls the “agroecosystem.”

While many would consider agroecosystems as ground for producing food, ideally they also improving air quality, pollination and soil health. So as the world needs more food, fuel and fiber, O’Brien said farmers will have to play a bigger role in making sure land continues to be viable growing ground.

“An agroecosystem is more than just producing a crop,” O’Brien said during the South Dakota Soil and Water Conservation Service’s Connecting Farm to Future webinar Dec. 10.

The amount of crop ground has almost tripled since the 1940s, he said, and many farms are managed with simplified rotations of corn and soybeans. That’s meant a dramatic decrease in both grazing ground and diverse ecosystems on the farm.

“All these factors are leading to major changes,” he said. “What we’ve ended up with is a lot more land in crop production, and all of it is corn and soybean.”

While land use changes are also affected by things such as wetland protections and CRP ground, O’Brien said the cropping changes are the leading impact on the agroecosystem. If farmers are focused merely on production, O’Brien said a tipping point may be coming.

“This isn’t really that surprising. We are asking this of our agricultural systems. In the end, we may talk about how this is kind of a problem,” he said. “We have tools to use but we have to choose to use them.”

Tools such as regenerative agriculture, or setting aside conservation land are already being used, O’Brien said, but more will need to be done in the future to keep agroecosystems thriving.

Reach Reporter Jager Robinson at 605-335-7300, email jager.robinson@lee.net or follow on Twitter @Jager_Robinson.

The Tri-State Neighbor Weekly Update

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

"According to a 2001 paper, it is estimated that the total annual cost of erosion from agriculture in the U.S. is about $44 billion or about $100 per acre of cropland and pasture."

Find the equipment you're looking for

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Breaking News