Besides food, farming can provide wildlife habitat and reduce global warming

Embargoed for release 9:45 A.M. CST Saturday, Feb. 18, 2006

When people hear the word "agriculture," most think of food. But the benefits of agriculture are much more than farm fresh corn or dairy products. Now scientists are investigating how farmers can manage their land to offer everyone more environmental benefits, and whether farmers could be paid for providing these benefits.

"Agriculture, which includes planted forests, is the world's largest human-managed ecosystem," said Scott Swinton, professor of agricultural economics at Michigan State University. "There is a huge area of land that people manage for food, fiber and fuel these are all marketed products with a value attached to them. What we want to know is if we can also manage agriculture for things that people like and appreciate, but don't have markets, such as cleaner air, cleaner water, less global warming, wildlife habitat and aesthetics many people enjoy seeing the green, open space of farmland in their communities."

Swinton speaks at a symposium entitled "Harvesting Ecosystem Services from Agriculture" today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. The symposium will be moderated by Frank Lupi, associate professor of agricultural economics and fisheries and wildlife at MSU. They and the other participants will discuss the concept of ecosystem services the services provided to humans by the biological processes in the ecosystem, in this case, agriculture.

Swinton, who studies sustainable agriculture, thinks the idea of ecosystems services is timely. As international trade becomes increasingly more open, many of the protections given to agricultural products are being reduced. By looking at the entire gamut of products (both marketed and unmarketed) that agriculture provides, decision-makers can make more informed choices about whether, how and why farming can be supported. The principles behind the ecosystem services idea co

Contact: Scott Swinton
Michigan State University

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