THE BLOG
10/04/2016 12:59 pm ET Updated Oct 05, 2017

What Do We Need to Know About American Food Production?

What should everyone know about the way food is farmed and raised in America? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Miriam Horn, of the Environmental Defense Fund and author of the recently published Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland, on Quora.

Everyone should know that farmers and ranchers make up just 1% of the U.S. population but manage 70% of our water and land. American farms overwhelmingly remain family owned and run. Land-grant colleges are playing a crucial role in teaching young food producers critical science like soil microbiology and supporting them to the degree they can with research, but are woefully underfunded, leaving crucial tasks like seed development to a few (and ever fewer) corporations.

Everyone should also know that some big companies are playing key roles in this revolution, including America's biggest grocer, Wal-Mart, which has asked its food suppliers like Kellogg's to buy from "low-carbon" farmers like Kansas farmer Justin Knopf.

Most importantly, everyone should know that there are no simple, perfect, universal answers. Agriculture can't be formulaic or dogmatic because, as Justin told me, "Diverse ecosystems require diverse practices." He sees, for instance, "crops and geographies and family circumstances for which no-till is not the right solution," including in very cool and poorly drained soils where under thick residues the soil can never dry or warm enough to germinate seeds.

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