Farming Healthy Ecosystems

Posted by on January 18th, 2018 | 0 Comments »


In 2050, the global population will grow to 10 billion people. As a result, the the demand for food, feed, fiber and biofuels could double from 2005 levels. [1]

Simply growing more is not the answer. We need to meet the demand of 2050 in a way that is economically viable, environmentally sustainable and socially beneficial.

To meet this challenge, U.S. farmers are improving the agricultural “ecosystem” on their farms by promoting healthy interactions between the soil, plants, microorganisms, water, animals and people.

The strategies and technologies used to improve ecosystem health have multiple benefits. They protect water quality, improve the nutritional content of crops, promote healthy livestock, build resilience to drought and help mitigate climate change.

U.S. farmers are adopting reduced or no-till cropping systems to promote healthy ecosystems on their farms. It is a way of growing crops without disturbing the soil, which increases the amount of water and organic nutrients in the soil and decreases erosion. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

How Do Farmers Improve Ecosystem Health?

U.S. farmers are using high-tech tools and low-tech techniques to improve the health of their ecosystems.

  • Reduced or no-till management systems and the use of cover crops prevents erosion, soil degradation and carbon loss.
  • Precision agriculture systems allow farmers to track the productivity of each field and identify less productive land that can be put into conservation.
  • Appropriate nutrient application stimulates the growth of nutrient-rich foods while preserving water quality.
  • Genetically modified and traditional hybrid seeds help crops resist pests and drought, reduce pesticide use, improve root growth and increase crop uptake of nutrients and water.
  • Improved animal care practices make livestock more productive and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Healthy Ecosystems are Productive Ecosystems

By improving ecosystem health, farmers produce more with the same amount (or less) agricultural inputs (i.e. land, labor, or fertilizer).

This increased productivity helps them control costs and protect their incomes even when prices for their products are low. Consumers, in turn, enjoy nutritious food and sustainably grown agricultural products at lower prices.

The 2017 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (2017 GAP Report®) describes strategies and technologies U.S. farmers are using to improve the ecosystems of their farms. Click here to learn how Jerry, a row crop farmer in the Midwest, improves the health and productivity of his farm by diversifying the crops he grows, improving the quality of his crops and by adopting science-based innovations that help him manage costs while increasing his yields.



[1] Van Lampe, M. et al., “Why Do Global Long-term Scenarios for Agriculture Differ? An overview of the AgMIP Global Economic Model Intercomparison,” Agricultural Economics, January 2014.
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