Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 October 2009
Agricultural landscapes are essential for preserving biodiversity, even though agricultural activities are the leading cause of habitat degradation worldwide. About half of the Earth's productive land area is farmed or grazed, whereas only about 6% of the total land area is protected for native species and ecosystems. The ecological services of healthy ecosystems are fundamental to agriculture, and these services depend upon a large number of species interacting with each other and with inorganic nutrient cycles. Likewise, the quality of ecosystems between reserves is critical to the persistence of species and ecological processes within reserves. Thus, conservation-oriented farming methods are critically important for both agriculture and biodiversity. Three examples illustrate agricultural practices that benefit the farmers, the local ecosystem and the landscape: (1) In Minnesota, rotational grazing, evaluated by the collaborative research of farmers and scientists, improved soil, pasture and stream quality, and boosted the confidence of the farmers in developing more sustainable grazing practices. (2) Predator-friendly ranching in Montana, in which nonlethal methods are used to protect livestock from depredation by native predators, benefited the ranchers with premium prices for wool and meat. The persistence of native predators, many of which have been on endangered species lists for years, benefited the regional ecosystem. (3) Shade-grown coffee in Latin America, in which coffee shrubs grow under an intact forest canopy, often looks and behaves ecologically like native forest and may house high levels of native biodiversity. This system benefited farmers, as long as they received a price premium for shade-grown coffee. The economic viability of these conservation-oriented practices depends upon farmers receiving price premiums for their products and by society rewarding fanners for their practices. A vision of ecological farming as the dominant form of agriculture is presented, with benefits at the scale of the farm, the landscape and society.
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