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Big, Not Broken

Don't confuse scale with sustainability
The impacts of US agriculture are huge, yes — but that's because we produce a lot of food. In fact, the total value of US agricultural production has increased by 125% since 1961, and it's around 11 times greater than the UK's total production value. An isolated focus on practices, without examining production, can't tell us much about sustainability trends.

So we looked at intensity measures over time: the environmental impact or quantity of inputs per unit of agricultural production. And we're seeing a historical trajectory showing increasing efficiency by many accounts. Since 1961, for example, the amount of land required to grow a ton of wheat has fallen by nearly 50%. That's great, because growing more food on less land means converting fewer rich areas into farmland. Without even greater yield gains, we risk expanding agriculture's global footprint by 3.3 hectares by 2050. 

Of course, these improvements don't justify complacency. Rather, they highlight the importance of a renewed commitment to publicly funded research and development — a major driver of the sustainability trends we're seeing now.
How to measure agricultural sustainability >>>
Dan Balustein-Rejto on contextualizing ag sustainability
We often talk about farming’s environmental impacts in isolation: sometimes the focus is pesticides, sometimes greenhouse gas emissions, for instance. What I enjoyed most about writing this article and developing our Sustainable Intensification Tracker was bringing these factors all together. Only then does it become clear that US agriculture is gradually decoupling from many resources and impacts.
An interactive look at sustainability measures
Comparing environmental impacts against agricultural production
We created a series of interactive graphs in order to visualize how the environmental impact of farming has changed over time. Find it here to understand the ways land use, nitrogen loss, water use, soil erosion, and other environmental factors have changed in the last few decades.
A new visual series >>>
📚This is what we're reading this week 📚
Speaking of interactive graphics, here's a fun one of the world's hidden power and telecoms infrastructure.

How a closed-door meeting shows farmers are waking up on climate change.

A waterfront condo building in California is ground zero for sea-level rise as officials begin the controversial process of identifying what kind of structures will be saved from climate change, and those that won't.

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