It was a 30th birthday celebration for the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) last week at the Monsanto campus in St. Louis. Founded in 1982 to serve as information aggregator and dialog facilitator between agribusinesses, public agencies, non-profits and farmers, CTIC took the opportunity for a look back and a peek into the future.
Two panels of experts challenged the minds of the participants and CTIC members in the audience as moderators asked questions that highlighted the changes of farmer’s practices and thinking, along with some good-natured ribbing at the length of time it took to change some attitudes.
The biggest impact on agriculture.
When asked what the biggest advancement of agriculture had taken place in the last 30 years, not surprisingly, "the grandfather of no-till", Bill Richards from Centerville, Ohio, claimed no-till as having the most impact on the landscape. Bruce Knight, no-tiller and past chief of the NRCS turned consultant, emphasized mechanization and technology.
Steve Taylor, president of Missouri Agribusiness Association and central Missouri farmer, noted that without weed science and technology, no-till would not have been possible on the scale practiced today.
Brent Haglund, president of the Sand County Foundation in Madison, Wis., opted for a more human recommendation: the mindset of farmers today. He said that farmers have had to become more thoughtful in how they approach challenges – from safety to the sophistication of their operations. He also led the discussion towards a common criticism: a healthy balance for the role of government in agriculture.
Agriculture’s biggest challenge.
Farmers don’t operate within a vacuum of independence anymore. It has taken public-private partnerships to tackle big challenges such as soil and water conservation and grain marketing. Haglund says that private leadership is important and that many of the profound changes taking shape in agriculture started with the private sector first, followed by support from public input.
Washington D.C. resident Bruce Knight voiced concern of group fragmentation within the spectrum of agriculture interests in an increasingly polarized U.S. culture. "Are we poisoning the well?" he asks.
Moderator Jane Frankenberger, a leader of research and extension programs for Purdue University said that the public as a whole does not communicate well. "Partnerships [among interests] may need to be broader than ever today to achieve goals."
Most exciting movement in agriculture.
Knight says he’s excited about the movement away from idle lands management to working lands conservation. "This is a seismic change." No-tiller Bill Richards said that this is the result of looking at conservation as a part of the farming system. "We have instilled a conservation ethic for the world. Our voluntary approach gets conservation on the land."
Summing up the day, one of the panelists reminded the audience "what got us here is not what will get us there in the future". CTIC got not only a birthday celebration with some of the movers and shakers of agriculture, but a blueprint for navigating the next 30 years. Happy birthday!