Sustainable intensification of U.S. agriculture: Aspirations, barriers, and the role of the LTAR network

TitleSustainable intensification of U.S. agriculture: Aspirations, barriers, and the role of the LTAR network
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsSpiegal S, Bestelmeyer BT
Conference NameASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting
Date Published10/2017
PublisherASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting Abstracts
Conference LocationTampa, FL
ARIS Log Number341572

Sustainable intensification of agriculture in the United States will require profound shifts in land management, consumer markets, and public policies. The Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network was established to facilitate these shifts. Using a common experiment, network sites in 18 biogeographically diverse regions are comparing “business-as-usual” with “aspirational” production systems that represent options for local sustainable intensification. We used a conceptual model described in a companion talk to elucidate common themes across the regions represented by LTAR. We found that all sites share concerns about business-as-usual production, including the economic and environmental costs of agricultural intensification and specialization, tendencies toward uniform management despite varying soil and rainfall conditions, and mounting environmental change. Though specifics differ among regions, LTAR’s aspirational production systems reveal four general strategies for sustainable intensification: 1) ecological intensification, 2) matching management strategies with land potential and climatic conditions, 3) mitigating and enhancing resilience to environmental changes, and 4) managing agricultural lands with a landscape perspective. Fifteen field- and enterprise-level practices are under evaluation to advance these four strategies, yet adoption of the practices lags behind outreach in all LTAR regions. Economic, informational, and social factors are ongoing barriers to widespread adoption. Overcoming these barriers will require financial mechanisms that make aspirational production more profitable, better understanding of the trade-offs between profitability and environmental quality, and long-term partnerships among producers, agroecologists, and social scientists.