From the desk of Gene Merriam

Last month, the Freshwater Society joined with the Izaak Walton League to host a conference on agriculture, water quality and the changes that more than a century of drainage has brought to our natural landscape.

For me, and I think for most of the people who attended the conference, the most provocative presentation came from Johnathan Foley, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.


gene merriam150
Gene Merriam

You can read more about Foley’s presentation elsewhere in this newsletter. His basic message was this: By about 2050, we – the human race – must figure out how feed an additional 2 billion people, 30 percent more than the Earth’s current population. And we must accomplish that feat while, simultaneously, reducing the serious pollution and over-use of water that accompany current agricultural production.

Lots of creative thought and cooperation among the world’s peoples will be required to achieve a sustainable, less-polluting system of producing our food and food for the world. It almost certainly will take some sacrifices. If many of us adopt a diet that relies a little less on meat, and a bit more on whole grains, there will be more food to go around, and we will be healthier for it.

I believe there are important roles for government to play in meeting the challenge Foley described. But I also have a vision that private enterprise will help us make the right choices as we pursue sustainability. When I look forward to what I would like to see in agriculture, I think back to the transformation in the forest products industry in Minnesota that occurred over the last couple decades.

We got that transformation, at least we got it faster than we otherwise would have gotten it, because some major buyers of timber and paper used their market clout to insist forests be managed sustainably. When they did that, they were responding to customers’ demands or seeking an edge over their competition.

Those firms demanded standards – and third-party audits to make sure the standards are met – that ensure forests are not logged faster than they can reproduce, that water quality is protected and that wildlife habitat is maintained.

We need sustainable agriculture today even more than we need sustainable forestry. I believe we can produce our food in a way that is less polluting and less wasteful of resources. I believe the agriculture industry and the food-processing industry can achieve sustainability.

As consumers, we need to insist our food is produced sustainably and support the people and firms that meet our standards.