International Congress brings together leaders in conservation

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Advocates of conservation agriculture from around the world exchanged insights on using conservation ag to feeding a growing world population during a global agricultural conference held June 22-25.

The 6th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture (WCCA) in Winnipeg, Manitoba, focused on practical conservation applications and techniques that will help conserve soil, water and other natural resources, as well as provide economic returns. Farmers, researchers, educators, agricultural company representatives, government representatives and others from 47 countries shared ideas on the opportunities and challenges they face in conservation agriculture. Countries represented included Australia, England, France, Argentina, several African countries and more.
 
Hosted by the Conservation Agriculture Systems Alliance, a network of conservation agriculture organizations across North America, with the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) and Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC) taking the lead, the Congress was the first WCCA to be held on North American soil.

The event included several keynote speakers, discussion panels, networking opportunities and a chance to participate in tours after the Congress, which took attendees to see conservation agriculture in action on nearby farms in Canada and the United States.

Jerry Hatfield of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, who served as WCCA program chair, said the Congress provided an opportunity to share ideas and learn from international colleagues on how conservation agriculture can be a success.
 
“WCCA impacts agriculture because everyone shares their ideas freely and openly, regardless if you are from academia or another hemisphere, or have a farm or work in policymaking,” Hatfield said. “Our goal is to share ideas that have practical application and can be put to work improving soil health as well as benefiting the farmer and society.”
 
Throughout the conference, attendees were challenged by keynote speakers to implement and educate others on conservation agriculture. David Montgomery, author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, opened the Congress with his “Case for Global Soil Restoration.” He demonstrated how soil could have been the culprit for the downfall of several civilizations throughout history and how rebuilding good soil is essential for society to thrive.

Howard G. Buffett, a farmer, businessman and author of eight books on conservation, wildlife, and the human condition, acknowledged that differences among regions mean that no one cropping system or practice works everywhere. However, he emphasized, sustainable agriculture is essential for feeding the world’s population.
 
In his address to close the Congress, Dwayne Beck, manager of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm, challenged participants to use science and reason, not emotion and rumors, when tackling issues related to soil degradation. Beck also encouraged the use of a systems approach with several conservation practices together in harmony to tackle soil degradation problems.
 
Glen Shaw, executive director of the SCCC, said that Congress attendees valued hearing speakers from outside of North America describe their struggles to reduce soil degradation and increase soil health in their respective countries.
 
“Attendees heard a consistent message that implementation of conservation agriculture is key to feeding a growing world population,” Shaw said. “A number of Canadian farmers expressed to me that it was interesting to learn about sustainable agriculture practices from other countries. Farmers share many of the same issues regardless of where they farm.”

CTIC Executive Director Karen Scanlon said that the Congress gave conservationists from around the globe the chance to share ideas face-to-face.
 
“WCCA presented a unique opportunity to learn about conservation agriculture innovation beyond North America,” Scanlon said. “We urged attendees to meet new people, make important connections, expand their knowledge and take home new ideas. With the challenges facing us in agriculture and in conservation, being able to share experiences, good and bad, with others is incredibly valuable.”
 
Platinum sponsors of the Congress were Dow AgroSciences, Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Monsanto, The Mosaic Company and Seed Hawk. Gold Sponsors were Agrium, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Syngenta.
 
Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, Bayer CropScience, CropLife Canada and Farm Credit Canada served as Silver Sponsors. Featured as Bronze Sponsors were Canadian Fertilizer Institute; Coalition on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases; Ducks Unlimited; DuPont Pioneer; Farm Foundation, NFP; The Fertilizer Institute; The Nature Conservancy; Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture; SaskCanola; the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
 
The North Dakota Department of Agriculture, North Dakota Corn Growers Association and Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association also contributed to the WCCA effort. The Farm Journal Media Group and the Glacier Media Group served as exclusive media sponsors for WCCA.

To see the 6th WCCA through the eyes of the participants, visit the WCCA Storify page. For more information on WCCA, the guest speakers and other events that occurred, visit wcca6.org. Presentation and paper abstracts will be posted on ctic.org/WCCA.
 
The 7th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture will take place in Rosario, Argentina, in 2017.


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