"U.S. agriculture faces a future of mounting demands.  We will need to feed 9 billion people on a shrinking resource base of farm and ranch land,  while adapting to new issues, such as climate variability and competition for land and water for renewable energy production,” said Jon Scholl, president of American Farmland Trust (AFT).

Scholl opened the National Agricultural Landscapes Forum hosted by AFT, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Foundation NFP.  The groups convened thought leaders from across disciplines and across the country for a vigorous discussion of how to improve agricultural conservation policies and outcomes in the context of tight budgets, the need for greater governmental efficiency, competing land use interests, and rapid technological change.

In her opening keynote, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan challenged Forum participants to address five key questions: “What approaches are needed to protect the land? What approaches are the most efficient and cost effective? What is the best way to deliver technical assistance? How can we balance the regulatory requirements?  How can we make sure our tools will be effective with challenges such as climate and water and future challenges that we don't know about yet?”

In the context of the 2012 farm bill, Secretary Merrigan called out two themes:  considering an expanded notion of what the farm safety net means and the need for 100,000 new farmers each year.

"In many ways, timing is everything.  A farm bill process is just around the corner,” said, A.G. Kawamura, former California secretary of Agriculture and co-chair of Solutions From the Land, a U.N. Foundation funded project developing a sustainable roadmap for 21st century agricultural systems.

“So we need to basically bring ourselves together, converge our thoughts, our minds, our resources, in terms of where we want to be with agriculture in this country utilizing the tools that a federal government might bring together -- to start really very seriously preparing ourselves for an exciting process that is ultimately a plan for the agricultural future of this country."

Throughout the first day of the Forum, discussions centered on key issues, such as the need to take both regional and local watershed and foodshed approaches and the importance of cutting across jurisdictions and silos to work together collaboratively.  Ross Racine, executive director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council, decried the fact that all the beef raised on tribal lands is exported, leaving none for local consumption by tribal populations and called for optimizing and relocalizing the global food system.

"Farmers and ranchers manage nearly half the land in this country," Scholl added. "We're proud to convene a national discussion to develop improved approaches, policies, and use of resources that support agriculture as a critical component of our nation's landscape and to ensure the sustainable use of our land and water.  We believe a vibrant agriculture sector is capable of meeting great challenges and providing solutions to some of the most pressing food and environmental issues of our time."