VIEWS: 17 PAGES: 4 CATEGORY: Agriculture POSTED ON: 6/18/2010
[...] from 2002 to 2007, around 911,000 acres of farmland were taken out of production for housing, shops, and other development. Since it takes a lot of energy to produce nitrogen fertilizer, we could save part of that energy by recycling food scraps and capturing the ammonia in an organic matrix like compost.
In the Eastern United States A Multifaceted Focus on Farms and Food STEPHEN AUSMUS (D1632-2) T he project is a cartographer’s which includes 13 states and the District dream: a map that melds layer of Columbia—exceeded $20 billion. upon layer of digital informa- The research team wants to examine the tion to compile a comprehensive constraints imposed by time and space to picture of the potential for local pinpoint environmental, economic, so- food production all along the eastern cial, and other geographic factors in local seaboard. agricultural practices. Then they will use “We want to identify the information the data to build computer models to as- we need to assess our capacity to pro- sess local food-production potential and duce food locally that meets the needs of the economic viability of realizing this a large urban population,” says Wayne potential. Honeycutt, who is the research leader at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Going Local New England Plant, Soil, and Water Labo- Until recently, low fuel prices contrib- ratory in Orono, Maine. “And we want uted to the globalization of the U.S. food to find out how this capacity changes all system. Food is grown and processed in along the eastern seaboard region as the a limited range of regions and then trans- seasons change.” ported over long distances to many dif- “It’s an incredibly diverse undertak- ferent markets. The result? More than 65 ing,” adds David Fleisher, an agricultural percent of the vegetables and 80 percent of engineer with the ARS Crop Systems the fruit consumed in the eastern seaboard and Global Change Labora- is produced and brought in tory in Beltsville, Maryland. from somewhere else. “We’re going to compare But today, says Pat Can- county-level data on weath- ning, an ERS economist and Microbiologist Patricia Millner and soil er, soil types, fertilizer use, a partner in the research, scientist John White review gas-emission land availability, water avail- “Fluctuations in fuel costs data from an enclosed compost pile. A large ability, projected changes in have significant cost impli- metal box (seen being lifted with a tractor) is climate, and plant suitability cations for long-distance placed over the compost pile so that all gas emissions can be captured and measured. from Maine to Virginia.” S u s t a i n a b l e food shipments.” Agriculture Fleisher and Honeycutt Gathering the Data believe that relying more For this project, the ARS on strategic production of and benefits of locally grown produce scientists have pulled together a diverse locally grown food can counter the chal- compare with those of produce transported array of research partners from the Mas- lenges of rising transport costs, expanding over long distances. sachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts populations, and vanishing farmlands. “When we have our results, I think we’ll University, Iowa State University, Cornell In addition, expanding opportunities for remember how fertile the eastern seaboard University, and Pennsylvania State Uni- local food production could stimulate is,” Fleisher says. “But at the same time, versity. Two other USDA agencies—the rural economies and offset the risk of we’ll be surprised at how much land is no Economic Research Service (ERS) and food shortages in one area by increasing longer available—and how much soil is the Agricultural Marketing Service—are and diversifying local production in other not suitable—for crop production.” also contributing to the study. areas. It would also shorten the time pro- Honeycutt is convinced that establish- The eastern seaboard is probably bet- duce spends in transport, which can boost ing systems for local sustainable food ter known for its dense urban corridors overall quality by
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