Tom Tomich: ‘How are we doing on global food production?’

Tomich said that agriculture isn’t just about how much food we grow. It’s also about people’s health and livelihoods, global economics, and how we use land and resources, among other issues. He wants to be able to measure how we’re doing.

Tom Tomich: As we look ahead to this century and basically reinvent agriculture, it raises questions about how do we yet again raise production, and minimize environmental damages.

Tom Tomich is director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at the University of California – Davis. He talked with EarthSky at a conference about sustainable agriculture – methods of farming that will feed the planet’s billions of people, year after year, into the future. He’s one of the leaders among a group of scientists who hopes to create a set of metrics, a system of measurements, to assess agriculture around the globe.

Tom Tomich: It’s a way of bringing the science into the dialogue.

Tomich said that agriculture isn’t just about how much food we grow. It’s also about people’s health and livelihoods, global economics, and how we use land and resources, among other issues. He wants to be able to measure how we’re doing.

Tom Tomich: How are we doing on the social side? How are we doing on the economic side? How are we doing on the environment? How are we doing on food?

To create these metrics, Tomich is collaborating with farmers, policy makers, and scientists. He says the challenge of how to feed Earth’s people is important to address now, because population experts predict that Earth’s population will grow from 6.8 billion, to 9 billion by 2050.

Tom Tomich: This next generation is really crucial in the future for our species.

Tomich said the act of measuring – or even defining – agricultural sustainability itself is a moving target.

Tom Tomich: You can’t measure it all at once. Part of the reason I don’t try to define agricultural sustainability myself is because we really work with farmers, with policy makers, with NGOs to say what are the priorities right now? A lot of people wish I could just make a list of, what are the 10 things and we’ll check them all off. We could do a list like that now. But if you went back 10 years, it would be a different list. Climate change wouldn’t loom so large, energy wouldn’t be so big. Who knows what it’s going to be in 10 years? Part of this process is continually adapting the list to new issues that are coming up.

He said the process of compiling these metrics is to understand the choices and trade-offs that have to be made to create a globally sustainable agricultural system, and feed the world.

Lindsay Patterson