The Need for Science in Sustainability - Food Dialogues

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The Need for Science in Sustainability

At this year’s Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium, Dr. Marty Matlock was presented with the 2018 Borlaug Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) Communication Award. His leading achievements in the science of agricultural sustainability throughout the past 10 years makes him a deserving recipient, providing us with new information that brought the untapped potential of our ecosystem to the forefront.

I began working with Dr. Matlock 11 years ago where we were working on the first carbon inventory for agriculture in the dairy sector. I knew it was the beginning of great things for sustainability practice. He has continued his work, leading all of agriculture on quantifying carbon in order to make not only that sector better, but society as a whole. It was an honor to help recognize his achievement and participate in the celebration.

When we look at sustainability, it’s about looking at science-based outcomes related to carbon, carbon cycling, the drawdown of carbon, soil health, water use, water quality, biodiversity outcomes, yield and nutrition outcomes. Each of these issues are complex in its own right, raising the need for a wave of scientists to systematically work together across scientific disciplines. Marty certainly has proven he can work with others and has taken an interdisciplinary approach.

During our panel discussion after the CAST Communication Award presentation, Dr. Matlock took the idea of sustainability a step further, noting that the practice should not “be brand by brand. It has to be a systems-wide response that reinforces trust in the system.” Practicing sustainability is not about competing with one another, but rather taking away the guessing and questions for the consumer. He states that “the consumer shouldn’t have to decide when they’re looking at milk on the shelf, or meat in the case, which one is safer than the other. They have a standard of expectation of safety, they should have the same standard of expectation of sustainability.”

Whenever I think about our farmers, I believe the goods that are harvested come from a place of stewardship with a real commitment to produce food that is good for both our society and our planet. True sustainability is about putting those values into the day-to-day business models of how we are delivering products. We need to start talking with our consumers, letting them know what we stand for and what we value. The food and agriculture sectors should be proud because there truly is no other sector that is actually delivering on the promises of sustainability.

Our farmers are the biggest influence on our environment, and with the help of new technologies like crop breeding, moisture sensors, GPS, robots, precision technology, animal nutrition trackers and more, are on the frontlines of solving for climate change. By learning new things about our environment, like how powerful our soil truly is, we can continue to create new sustainable solutions that will help us create a better future for generations to come.

As Dr. Matlock stated, “What we do on the land is what our future is. The way we treat the land is what our future becomes. If you want solutions, take it to a farmer.”

Let’s congratulate Dr. Matlock who is an inspiration to all scientists to work collaboratively across disciplines on the systems thinking necessary for tackling climate change.

To view the full presentation, panel discussion, and Dr. Matlock’s slide, as well as other great agricultural videos, visit the CAST YouTube channel.