Challenges to be addressed

Traditionally, food and fiber have been the primary products of the agricultural system, however, the ethanol boom and potential for second generation feedstocks made from perennial crops have also made energy a direct output of agriculture. In recent decades, the profound consequences that agriculture can have on the quality and quantity of water available for other uses has become clear. Intensification of agricultural production in the Corn Belt to meet the growing demands of food and ethanol led to a reduction of water quality and had severe consequences for the hypoxic zone. Clearly, treating food, energy, and water as a unidirectional coupling of land, water, and energy to food production omits critical feedback loops and fundamental tradeoffs between the suite of outputs that agriculture produces.

New challenges to maintaining sustainable food, energy, and water quality and quantity are clearly on the horizon as projections from climate models suggest that some regions with highly productive agricultural lands will increasingly face both drought and flood conditions. Policies aimed at adaptation and mitigation will be needed at the farm and watershed level to reduce the impacts of these extreme events. The development of improved integrated modeling systems that incorporate the fundamental linkages and feedback mechanisms between the agricultural sector, water quality and quantity, and energy usage will provide powerful tools for policy analysis and design.

Schematic depicting the key linkages and feedback channels of the FEW system.