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Expert to Examine Ways to Build a Successful, Sustainable Farming System

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Thursday, January 22, 2015   

COLUMBUS, Ohio - While the nation's agriculture industry is productive, a leading scientist and biotechnology expert says it's not sustainable. Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Senior Scientist at the Center for Food Safety Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman says the industrial model of farming, focusing on methods rather than the whole system, has contributed to loss of biodiversity, as well water and air pollution.

He suggests moving toward an agroecological approach that takes into account the ways farming interacts with the environment.

"To use natural processes that are more and more understood through the science of ecology in a way that enhances production and preserves scarce resources and reduces the impacts and pollution from farming," says Gurian-Sherman.

He says no-till farming is an example of focusing on only a method. While it reduces soil erosion and saves water, it has increased the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides. Gurian-Sherman will discuss the relationships between biotechnology and agroecology, and how they can combine to build a successful, sustainable agricultural system when he speaks at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association's annual conference in February.

Gurian-Sherman points to the toxic algae pollution in Lake Erie as another example, because it is linked to the runoff of excess nutrients from no-till farming.

"It illustrates dangers or risks of relying on piece-meal solutions without taking a more holistic, systemic view of agriculture as an endeavor and as a system in the environment as opposed to a series of methods," he says.

Another problem, says Gurian-Sherman, is the uneven playing field when it comes to social, political, and regulatory views of agriculture.

"Maybe about two to five percent of our agricultural research budget goes to ecologically-based and sustainable farming systems and the rest goes towards reinforcing the industrial model including improving its efficiency," he says.

Gurian-Sherman adds, research has contributed tremendously to the success of industrial farming, and with better support, sustainable farming systems would become more efficient as well. He's scheduled to speak at the conference in Granville on Feb. 15.


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