At UC Food Observer, we salute those who are working to make agriculture more sustainable. These three stories paint a picture of today’s challenges and present interesting solutions inspired by the past and present. They may make you rethink your own attitudes a bit.

Consider Jeff Mitchell, for instance.

DSC_6504Over the last two decades, this Cropping Systems Specialist for the University of California ANR Cooperative Extension (UC ANR) has encouraged farmers to develop systems much closer to the kinds found in nature.

His passion is conservation agriculture, also known as no-till/minimum-till farming. As he explained:

“Conservation agriculture promotes leaving fields untilled, the use of cover crops and other soil-enhancing practices. The use of cover crops acts as a ‘sink’ for nitrogen and other nutrients, increasing soil’s organic matter, enabling it to more effectively absorb and retain water. This helps reduce erosion.

Some research indicates that these practices can reduce fertilizer use, lead to larger yields, and provide some resilience in times of drought. Cover crops can also suppress weeds, which may reduce pesticide use.”

Learn more about conservation agriculture, as well as the Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center (CASI), which brought together more than 2,200 partners to pioneer systems that reduce tillage, fuel use and emissions in California’s Central Valley. CASI operates under the auspices of UC ANR.

cattle_grazing_fillmore_county_minnesotaDefying labels comes naturally to Nicolette Hahn Niman.

This vegetarian not only defends beef, she advocates for sustainable livestock production. The writer/attorney is married to Bill Niman, founder of the natural meat companies Niman Ranch and BN Ranch.

To explain the benefits of raising livestock, Nicolette Hahn Niman cited the British scientist Sir Albert Howard:

“He noted that in nature animals and plants always exist together: the best agriculture is the one that mimics nature. This means that in grassland areas, domesticated grazing animals actually enhance ecosystem functions.

Nature loves complexity. Much of the benefit of animals comes from the positive effect they have on the microbiology of the soil, which is the engine that drives everything.”

Learn more about the ecological benefits of sustainable livestock management.

UC Davis Pasture Poultry FarmSpeaking of farm animals, California poultry is experiencing rapid changes.

Commercial farmers are moving quickly to pastured, cage free systems and a fast growing group of backyard chicken owners are looking for advice.

Are these changes all they are cracked up to be? We turned to Maurice Pitesky to find out. He’s the Cooperative Extension poultry specialist with UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. He’s also co-leader of the university’s Pastured Poultry Farm, which is unique to the Western states in offering students and researchers a living laboratory for pasture-based poultry farm studies.

He told us:

“Commercial table egg production has gone through huge changes in the last few years – from conventional systems to enriched cages to now cage free poultry systems. The pendulum has swung very far, very fast.”

Learn more about how consumers are driving changes to California poultry, and how poultry farmers are impacted.

The work of Maurice Pitesky and Jeff Mitchell is part of UC’s Global Food Initiative, which is harnessing the institution’s resources to address one of the most compelling issues of our time: how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a growing world population. #GlobalFood

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