As the global community seeks to significantly increase food production to meet rapidly growing demand, it must do so in a manner that conserves and enhances limited land, soil, and water resources. Most land suitable for sustained crop production is already under production, and some of the world’s most critical crop production regions chronically overdraw irrigation water from aquifers. Research and investments are needed to develop methods, technologies, and improved varieties that enable simultaneous improvements in productivity, water use efficiency, and soil conservation.
One strategy is to focus on landscape-scale conservation, in which multiple interests across many jurisdictions work together to devise strategies that meet multiple goals, such as production of food, protection of biodiversity, soil conservation, and protection of drinking water. Achieving landscape-scale conservation presents inherent challenges when the actions that contribute to it are the subject of a wide range of individual and systemic decisions and practices. The complexity of both water and land governance systems in the United States and around the world requires thoughtful research to determine which policy changes and resource management practices will ensure effective conservation and enhancement of water and land.
In the United States, maintaining abundant and productive natural resources over the long term will require landowners, producers, and government agencies to develop more integrated and collaborative management approaches. Such approaches should seek to, among other outcomes, keep marginal and highly erodible lands out of production, end the overdrawing of aquifers for irrigation, resolve competition for use of limited surface water, conserve wildlife habitat alongside crop and livestock production, and stop the proliferation of invasive species. Effective, integrated landscape-scale management of land and water use in the United States will require moving beyond current jurisdictional boundaries and adversarial approaches to resource management and toward creative collaboration among landowners, tenant operators, environmental groups and conservation advocates, urban interests, and agencies across all levels of government.