1998 Project Highlights
|Participants in SAREs farm tourwhich capped three days of reflection and networking at the "10 Years of SARE" conferenceviewed pastured poultry at the Sechrist Ranch in Fredericksburg, Texas. |
Photo by Jerry DeWitt
TEN YEARS OF SARE:
A Decade of Programs, Partnership and Progress
Reaching a decade is a significant milestone for USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Authorized in the 1985 Farm Bill, SARE began funding competitive grants in 1988 for agricultural research and education with a $3.9 million budget.
Ten years later, SARE administers grants that advance sustainable agriculture systems in partnership with producers, farm consultants, university researchers and educators, state and federal government agency staff and representatives from nonprofit organizations. Some of those partners lead SARE grant projects; others serve on regional technical committees and administrative councils to provide policy direction, identify information needs and, above all, select projects on a competitive basis.
The inclusive nature of SARE in its strong regional structure, producer involvement and input from the grassroots in policy-setting and awarding of grants makes it a program others point to as worthy of emulation. "The development of an effective sustainable agriculture research and outreach model is a miracle when we consider that, in the beginning, diversity frightened some of us," says Jim Horne of the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture. "Today, through SARE, we are finding strength, energy and creativity in that same diversity."
By 1997, Congress had increased SAREs annual appropriation to $11.3 million. Over the decade, $80.6 million funneled to SARE has supported nearly 1,200 projects that examine how to improve profitability, protect natural resources and foster more viable communities across the nation and U.S. Island Protectorates.
Originally, most SARE projects were led by university-based researchers or private, nonprofit organizations working in concert with farmers, ranchers and Extension educators. More recently, SARE launched an innovative Producer Grant Program geared at on-farm research and a Professional Development Program targeted at Extension and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
SAREs work in soil management, cover crops, integrated crop and livestock systems, management-intensive grazing, pest management and innovative marketing practices truly has made a difference on the agricultural landscape and in peoples lives.
To celebrate the achievements of the program and its partnersand to look ahead at the next decade of progress in sustainable agricultureSARE sponsored a national conference that attracted 450 to Austin, Texas, in early March. The conference brought together researchers, farmers and ranchers, sustainable agriculture advocates, agricultural extension agents and other educators in a collaborative learning environment. The gathering featured a day-long farm tour, poster sessions allowing participants to interact one-on-one with project leaders and two days of concurrent sessions on such topics as how improving soil quality can boost profits and how savvy marketing strategies can add value to all kinds of commodities.
"We felt the conference was an ideal setting for people involved in sustainable agriculture across the nation to get together and learn from one another," says SARE Director Jill Auburn.
SAREs 10th anniversary is both a time for some well-deserved praise to the hundreds of people who have been involved with the program and an opportunity to explore the many challenges remaining on the path toward agricultural sustainability. In Austin, just as at universities, within the USDA and on farms and ranches around the country, people were asking how to make sustainability an integral goal of American agriculture well into the future. Some of the opportunities facing SARE include:
- Expanding outreach to family farmers, as recommended by the National Commission on Small Farms in January. Tailoring information on more sustainable systems for "on the-ground" use that spans the diverse needs of Americas small farmers promises to be a tall order.
- Improving communication with mainstream producers, emphasizing profitability as a tangible benefit without neglecting the environmental stewardship and quality of life issues that make the sustainability concept so appealing.
- Identifying SAREs role in evaluating new technologies such as precision agriculture, genetic engineering and the Internet, and assessing their potential contributionsboth positive and negativeto the profitability of farms and ranches and the health of the environment and communities.
- Addressing issues beyond the farm gate that increasingly drive agricultures futuresuch as marketing, consumer preferences concerning the food supply and the environment, community food security and issues raised where cities and suburbs meet farmlandwithout neglecting continued research into questions about soil quality, biologically based pest management and other on-farm production concerns.
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