California is one of the nation’s (and world’s) most important food producers, yet some of the production methods are not sustainable, and are causing undesired and unforeseen health and environmental consequences in California. California agriculture is bearing a local burden for food production that serves a global demand.
This issue is most concentrated in the issue of nitrogen in our ecosystems. Nitrogen is an integral part of all natural systems and nitrogen fertilizers are a necessary additive in all agricultural practices. The practices and policies governing nitrogen use, however, must gradually change, as excessive nitrogen leeching into groundwater impacts biological systems (including groundwater). However, the problems cannot be instantly addressed; nitrogen showing up in community water supplies was put into the ground forty or more years ago, and California’s food systems are so extensive that they cannot turn on a dime without destabilizing food supplies.
The scenarios we helped ASI develop are designed to help agriculture and policy stakeholders across Californian agriculture find a common way forward that balances policy, financial interests, practicality, health needs, ecosystem care, and food supply.
From interviews with numerous stakeholders, we compiled a presentation to kick off our initial scenario meeting. This synthesis is a high level view of the concerns, needs, and perspectives on the nitrogen issue as represented in the stakeholder group. This content helped us establish an even playing field and a set of mutual concerns about the future of nitrogen in California.
The initial scenario workshop occurred at UC Davis and produced four narratives about the future of nitrogen in California agriculture. Over the summer of 2010, the ASI team conducted further research and quantitative modeling based on the initial results of the scenario workshop in order to deepen the scenarios. At this writing, they have produced a set of draft scenarios that stakeholders are currently reviewing.
The polished set of scenario narratives was published as part of ASI’s “Nitrogen Assessment” in early 2011 and was meant to enable both the attendees and their colleagues around the state, nation, and world to think and work together about nitrogen use.