Posted: April 19, 2021

Creating thriving agricultural systems in urbanizing landscapes

Can food systems in urbanizing areas remain economically and environmentally sustainable in the face of development pressure and perceived disamenities associated with agriculture? A team led by college researchers is in the midst of a five-year study aimed at providing answers to this question.

"Communities and consumers in urbanized landscapes value agriculture for locally produced foods, open space and scenery, recreational opportunities such as agritourism, and wildlife habitats," said David Abler, professor of agricultural, environmental, and regional economics and demography. "But the sustainability of agriculture in these areas is threatened by increasing competition for land and water from urban sprawl, and by water pollution, livestock odors, pests, and dust from agricultural activities."

Supported by a nearly $9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the researchers are working to help create economically sustainable agricultural systems that can also enhance ecosystem services in urbanized settings. The team is using the Chesapeake Bay watershed as a case study.

Addressing issues and policies at farm, landscape, and watershed scales, the project employs methods spanning different disciplines, including engaging with stakeholders in a shared-discovery process designed to envision the desired 25-year futures for these agricultural systems. Long-term objectives are to increase agricultural productivity and to improve the efficient use of nutrients such as water, nitrogen, and phosphorus.

"The overall goal is to make this hypothesis a reality within the next 25 years," Abler said.

--Chuck Gill