Whether a buffer system is legally in public or private hands, it should be
one that is designed to incorporate a shared vision of the two groups,
thereby effectively changing it from a tension zone to one of common ground.
The mere exercise of joint planning for this small but critical piece of
land would provide a focused forum in which to initiate communication
between these two groups. The mentality of a shared ownership/shared
responsibility should foster care and concern for the area which ultimately
determines the sustainability of this area. Such win-win solutions as
"Working Trees for the Rural/Urban Interface" are appropriate for a coming
century when land will be more scarce, and we face increasing pressures to
find ways to more wisely use these resources to benefit the people and the
Submitted by Charles Francis and Michele Schoenberger
HIGHLIGHTS OF UPCOMING BOOK: UNDER THE BLADE
This article is the second in a series that highlights information in a book
to be published this December by Westview Press titled Under the Blade: The
Conversion of Agricultural Landscapes. Richard Olson focuses on a landscape
perspective on farmland conversion. Olson co-edited the book with Tom Lyson.
Authors who contributed chapters are from universities around the country.
For more information, contact Olson at the CSAS office, or e-mail him at
Under the dome
When we think of the loss of farmland, we often think only of a reduction in
our ability to produce food and fiber. But rural landscapes have many other
functions. The excellent book Our Ecological Footprint (1996) illustrates
this point with a clever thought exercise. Imagine enclosing a city such as
New York under a huge plastic dome that allows light to pass but nothing
else. The city is cut off from the surrounding countryside. Now imagine the
effect of this enclosure on the environment of the city. The air grows stale
and polluted, sewage accumulates, and supplies of clean water, raw
materials, and food are depleted. Of less immediate concern to the trapped
residents, their world no longer includes most other species, opportunities
for recreation and aesthetic enjoyment of rural areas, or an environment
conducive to rural cultures (can you imagine the Amish maintaining their
culture within the dome?). Rural landscapes provide many functions other
than food production.
The next step in this exercise is to expand the dome's edge beyond the city
limits. How large an area of the surrounding landscape needs to be enclosed
to allow the domed city to be sustainable? The answer depends on the
population of the city, consumption patterns, and the characteristics of the
surrounding landscape (see next article). For its water alone, New York City
depends on watersheds totaling 1900 square miles.
Structure and function
Development alters both the structure and function of landscapes. For
example, paving 10-20% of a watershed can double the amount of runoff.
Downstream parcels are affected; the impact of development is not restricted
to the developed parcel. This interaction among parcels determines landscape
function, and is the reason that the effects of development are often
greater than the amount of built land would suggest.
Andrews and Chetrick (1988) examined the relationship between population
density and agricultural production for 51 counties near the New York and
Philadelphia metropolitan areas. Their analysis controlled for differences
in productivity due to different levels of inputs (land, capital,
fertilizer, labor, livestock). Their study showed that a 1% increase in
population in a suburban county reduced the agricultural output of the
average farm in that county by 0.1-0.2%, independent of any change in the
levels of inputs used. Development not only eliminates agriculture from the
developed parcels, it reduces the productivity of the remaining farms.
As traffic increases, farmers have difficulty moving equipment between
fields. Field operations such as spraying may have to be modified or
curtailed to avoid complaints from neighbors, and complaints may escalate to
costly law suits or regulatory restrictions on farming activities. Dogs may
harass livestock, and theft and vandalism increase. Ultimately, as the
number of farms decreases, the infrastructure needed to support the
remaining farms declines. Local equipment, seed, and fertilizer dealers go
out of business, forcing the farmer to travel further to obtain supplies.
Escalating land prices prevent new farmers from gaining a foothold, and an
impermanence syndrome takes hold in which farmers believe development is
inevitable. Much of the farmland surrounding any American city is owned by
speculators and rented to pay the taxes until development occurs.
Preserving landscape function
There are ways to reduce the deleterious effects of development on landscape
functions. Houses can be clustered on the less productive or less
environmentally sensitive land, and permanent conservation easements
attached to the remaining land. Streets can be made narrower to reduce
impervious surfaces. Greenbelts can separate and buffer agriculture from
urban areas. Corridors can be retained between natural areas to allow
movement of wildlife.
Because landscape functions are the result of the interactions among all
parcels, preserving landscape functions requires some constraints on private
property rights. The allowable uses of a piece of land need to be considered
in the context of the whole landscape and society's objectives for landscape
functions. This approach results in some very contentious philosophical and
legal conflicts. Some of the legal aspects of land use and farmland
preservation will be discussed in the next article in this series.
Andrews, M.S. and J. Chetrick. 1988. Agricultural productivity in densely
populated areas. Landscape and Urban Planning 16:311-318.
Wackernagel, M. and W. Rees. 1996. Our Ecological Footprint. New Society
USING ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINTS TO DEFINE SUSTAINABILITY
Ecological Footprint Analysis is an accounting procedure pioneered by Mathis
Wackernagel and William Rees at the University of British Columbia for
estimating the area of productive land necessary to sustain current levels
of resource consumption and waste discharge by a particular human population
(see previous article). An analysis uses information on land use, land
productivity, population, consumption, and trade to estimate ecological
footprints. It can be applied to a person, household, city, country, or the
whole world, and can be conducted at different levels or detail depending on
available information, time, and the goals of the user. It is especially
useful as an educational tool for illustrating our dependence on ecosystems,
and a policy tool for identifying imbalances between a population and its
In an ecological footprint analysis done by CSAS, resource consumption in
the United States during 1994 was found to exceed its productive land base
by a factor of four (10.4 ha estimated footprint per capita vs. 2.7 ha
productive land per capita). By exceeding its productive land area, the U.S.
is effectively drawing on land outside its boundaries or temporarily
consuming natural capital. The results of the analysis are even more grim
when considering trends of increasing population growth and per capita
consumption since 1994, thereby resulting in even greater disparity between
the current footprint and the area of productive land.
Reducing the U.S. footprint is a major challenge. Any transition to a more
sustainable society requires identification of strategies that will allow
individual consumers to reduce their impact on the natural resource base.
Assuming that a country's footprint is the aggregate of its household
footprints, directing strategies within the context of a household is
Strategies to reduce the U.S. ecological footprint include the following:
- Diets would be vegetarian or nearly so, with a significant proportion of
consumed food being grown on-site.
- Household energy needs would be met the majority of the year by a
renewable energy source.
- Household energy-use efficiency would be greatly improved through the
installation of low-watt appliances (e.g., compact fluorescent bulbs).
- Areas surrounding houses would be planted to functional vegetation (e.g.,
trees for shade, vegetables for food).
- Second-hand stores and garage sales would be the first places to shop for
apparel and personal care products.
- Trains, buses and bicycles would be the primary means of transportation.
- Greater responsibility for personal health would be taken by family
members through the adoption of strategies that prevent sickness.
- Family entertainment would be exclusively home-centered.
Details of any transition to create a smaller household footprint will vary
depending on climatic and social factors. However, increased use of
renewable energy sources seems to be a basic requirement. As a result,
technology plays a central role in reducing ecological footprints. However,
many strategies do not rely on technology, but on simple changes in behavior
instead. Changing our diets, choosing not to drive, and taking more
responsibility for our own health significantly reduces our personal
footprints, and often requires less technology, not more.
Perhaps most significant in efforts to make household footprints smaller is
that many changes in consumption patterns are synergistic. Changing our
diets to reduce consumption of energy-intensive foods will likely improve
personal health. Opting to ride bicycles in place of driving will improve
aerobic fitness as well as reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Adapting homes
so that food can be grown on-site will reduce reliance on non-renewable
resources. Opportunities for synergy are many, and indicate that doing one
thing to reduce our household's (and country's) ecological footprint will
often yield multiple positive effects for ourselves and the environment.
Submitted by Mark Liebig and Richard Olson
Editor's Note: Two CSAS posters on the ecological footprint concept were
presented by Mark Liebig at the Soil and Water Conservation Society annual
conference in San Diego, CA, July 1998. The posters were part of a special
session on environmental effects of land use changes.
CSAS FALL SEMINAR SERIES
Small Farming Systems for the Midwest: Waking Up to Promising Possibilities
is the theme for the following seminars, to be held at 3:00 on Tuesdays in
the UNL East Campus Union.
15 Sep Chuck Hassebrook - Walthill, NE A time to act for family-sized farms
22 Sep Lynn Bycznski - Lawrence, KS Successful systems for market gardening
29 Sep Tom Frantzen - New Hampton, IA Hogs, hoop houses, and holistic
management: A diversified crop/livestock farm
6 Oct Tom Wahl and Kathy Dice - Wapello, IA Trees and herbs: A multi-storied
agricultural system for southeastern Iowa
13 Oct Deborah Stinner - Wooster, OH Innovation guided by culture: Amish
farms in Ohio
20 Oct Muriel Barrett - Sutherland, NE Adding value: Pastured-poultry,
direct marketing, agritourism and other strategies
27 Oct Tom Larson - St. Edward, NE Integrating management intensive grazing
with crop production
3 Nov Dave Welsch - Milford, NE A diversified organic croplivestock system
10 Nov Larry Mawby - Suttons Bay, MI Making a small farm work: Lessons from
a vineyard and winery
17 Nov Michael Duffy - Ames, IA The economics of small farms
NOVA UNIVERSITY: REGIONAL EDUCATION FOCUS
The Nordic Forestry, Veterinary and Agricultural University (NOVA) is a new
regional concept that could serve as a model for the Midwest. Envisioned as
a university without walls, NOVA was established in 1995 and is governed by
the rectors or deans of the faculties of seven universities in Denmark,
Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Iceland. The current rector of NOVA University
is Mεrten Carlsson, located at SLU in Alnarp, Sweden. NOVA's overall goal is
to raise the quality of regional education and research.
Visions of NOVA members include pooling human resources and facilities to
achieve mutual goals in ways that would not be possible as individual
universities, a challenge similar to that faced in the North Central Region
of the U.S. More detailed visions for NOVA include increased mobility of
students and faculty among Nordic agricultural universities, joint
postgraduate courses, coordinated research programs, and division of
responsibility on topics no single country could maintain or finance alone.
A new dimension is advancing international cooperation with the Baltic
countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), with European Union countries,
and with the developing world.
The NOVA postgraduate school builds on a long tradition of Nordic research
courses. In plant breeding, these courses have been held each year since
1975; the first course in a Baltic country (Estonia in 1997) focused on
breeding crops for sustainable systems. Each year 10 to 12 courses are held
on specific topics including three PhD short courses from 1995 to 1997 on
ecological agriculture. To facilitate student mobility, resident courses
from all NOVA universities are now open to postgraduate students within the
region. There are plans for a newly proposed MSc in Arctic Agriculture and
Rural Development. Charles Francis (CSAS director on professional
development leave) is the first visiting NOVA professor; he is spending one
year in the region working with colleagues to plan a curriculum and teach
courses on ecological agriculture.
Mobility for undergraduate students has been hampered by rigid prerequisites
and course requirements in each country. Credit and tuition problems have
been resolved, and programs are being planned to include short courses and
summer courses, one-semester course packages, courses toward the master's
degree, and developing a full study program that will involve multiple
universities. NOVA is cooperating closely with two European educational
initiatives: "Erasmus" and the follow-up "Socrates" program. Current
projects for undergraduates are in horticulture, agricultural engineering,
and veterinary medicine. There are still many problems to solve, but good
progress has been made in some areas.
A new NOVA program has been established with the Baltic agricultural
universities. The goal is to integrate educational programs and promote
close collaboration among universities that share the same ecoregion and
common future. There is a focus on sustainable use of natural resources,
food production, rural development, and environmental protection. Sharing
library services and intensive short courses are two of the initial
Agroecozones know no political boundaries. In times of scare finances for
research and education, it makes perfect sense to pool resources to help
meet common goals. The North Central Institute for Sustainable Systems has
been working toward similar goals for the Midwest since 1996. We need to
recognize the interdependence of both farmers and researchers in similar
ecozones, and build efficient organizations that will engender public
support and promote practical education for the future. NOVA University
provides us with one such model.
Submitted by Mεrten Carlsson (NOVA University), Geir Lieblein (Agricultural
University of Norway) and Charles Francis
INTEGRATED FARM UPDATE: ACCUMULATION OF RESIDUAL NITRATE BENEATH CORRAL AREAS
Two cattle corrals that have been used continually during 1992-1997 were
sampled to determine residual nitrate levels below the surface. One area has
been used by calves (500 lbs) during grazing of irrigated corn stalks or
soybean stubble for a two-month period each winter. The other area was used
as a watering area for cows during winter grazing of corn stalks.
In the area the calves used, soil samples were taken (to a depth of 5') in
the spring of 1997 following winter grazing of corn stalks and soybean
stubble. Samples were also taken in each corn and soybean field as a check.
An average of 74 calves each winter have grazed on this field and used the
corral area. Samples taken on the corn stalk corral area indicated a soil
nitrate level of 408 lbs/acre compared to 155 lbs/acre for the control taken
in the stalk field. Nitrate level below the corral area in the soybean
stubble was 334 lbs/acre compared to 160 lbs/acre in the control soybean
stubble field. In the spring of 1997 corn was planted in the soybean corral
area, following application of 200 lbs/acre of nitrogen (N), and soybeans
were planted in the non-fertilized corn corral area. Soybeans have been
shown to be good scavengers of N from the soil. Following harvest in
November 1997, samples were taken in the same areas as in the spring.
Results show soil nitrate levels of 188 lbs/acre following soybeans in the
corral area and 69 lbs/acre in the control. Thus soybeans thus were
successful in reducing nitrate levels in the soil. In the corn corral area,
soil nitrate levels were 195 lbs/acre, compared to 176 lbs/acre in the
control. Soil nitrate levels were reduced 140 lbs (42%) in the corral area
even after application of 200 lbs N fertilizer. Nitrate levels for the
control area in the corn stalks in the fall were similar to the spring.
In the area used by the cows, soil samples were taken in November 1997 in
the watering area following corn grain harvest. An average of 100 cows each
winter used this watering area for a two-month period. Check plots on each
side of the watering area were sampled to determine nitrate levels. Results
indicate an average nitrate buildup of 104 lbs/acre in the watering area.
There were 175 lbs/acre nitrate in samples 25' out from the watering tank,
33 lbs/acre 75' out, and 61 lbs/acre 100' out. Average nitrate levels were
increased 43 lbs (70%) in the watering area compared to the control, and 114
lbs (187%) in the samples 25' out.
These results indicate that nitrate can build up in a corral area in a stalk
field if the same area is used continuously for several years. If large
numbers of cattle use a substantial area of a field, it may be advisable to
sample this area separately to determine soil nitrate levels and thus the
crop needs. Grid sampling and the use of variable rate fertilizer
application may be advisable, especially to reduce N application rates in
the corral areas.
Submitted by Gary Lesoing
NCR SARE RELEASES PRIORITY AREAS
Priority areas for the 1999 North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture
Research and Education preproposals are on the Web at
http://www.sare.org/ncrsare/news/priority99.html or contact the NCR
SARE office, 402-472-7081, firstname.lastname@example.org. Preproposals are due on
September 11, 1998.
Contact CSAS office for more information.
Sep. 9-10 Thompson On-Farm Research Field Day, Boone, IA
Sep. 10-11 The Performance of State Programs for Farmland Retention: A
National Research Conference, Columbus, OH
Sep. 14-17 Nebraska Rural Institute, Ogallala, NE
Oct. 4-7 North American Conference On Enterprise Development Through
Agroforestry, Minneapolis, MN
Oct. 12-15 Second National Small Farm Conference: Building Partnerships
for the 21st Century, St. Louis, MO
Oct. 18-22 -- Annual Meeting of ASA/CSSA/SSSA, Baltimore, MD
Nov. 4-5 -- National Ground Water Association Animal Feeding Operations and
Ground Water: Issues and Impacts Conference, St. Louis, MO
Nov. 8-11 New Crops & New Uses: Biodiversity & Agricultural
Sustainability, Phoenix, AZ
Nov. 16-21 12th International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements
(IFOAM) Scientific Conference and General Assembly, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Nov. 23-27 First International Agronomy Congress - Agronomy, Environment,
and Food Security for 21st Century, New Delhi, India
Nov. 29 - Dec. 4 AFSRE 15th Symposium - Rural Livelihoods, Empowerment and
the Environment: Going Beyond the Farm Boundary, Pretoria, South Africa
Dec. 10 Conference - Farming Profitably in a Changing Environment, Urbana, IL
Jan. 8-9 Great Plains Regional Vegetable Conference, St. Jo, MO
Jan. 21-22 Farm Marketing into the Next Millenium - joint conference of
the North American Farmers' Direct Marketing Association and the Great Lakes
Vegetable Growers Convention, Grand Rapids, MI
June 12-16 -- 6th Conference on Agroforestry in North America: Sustainable
Land-Use Management for the 21st Century, Hot Springs, AR (call for papers
deadline Oct. 1, 1998)
June 14-16 XXVIII International Congress Work Sciences in Sustainable
Agriculture, Horsens, Denmark
DID YOU KNOW...
In June Prince Charles, who owns an organic farm, called for a public debate
on the merits of allowing genetically engineered food to be grown in Britain.
DID YOU KNOW...
Among the objectives of the 1996-2000 Nebraska Cooperative Extension Natural
Resources and Environmental Management Action Plan are: irrigators will
reduce water application per acre by 10%; number of farmers using
site-specific application systems for agricultural fertilizers will increase
by 15%; increase the percentage of crop acres on which IPM is practiced to
75%; reduce use of persistent or highly water-soluble pesticides by 10%;
increase biological or cultural pest control practices by 10%. For details
on this and other action plans, see
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