WC-10: Managing Nutrients, Water, and Energy for Producing More Food with Low Pollution

Growing more food while conserving water and air resources has been called a “wicked problem” because the interactions among sectors and stakeholders are complex, and there are many stakeholders who stand to win and lose from evolving environmental, economic, energy, and food security policies. Furthermore, while much knowledge and many techniques already exist to advance the dual goals of making agriculture more productive and environmentally sustainable, their widespread adoption by farmers is often impeded by economic and social barriers. Therefore, the goals of producing more food with low pollution will not be achieved by technological developments alone, but will also require recognition of the complex economic and social factors affecting farmer decision making and national policy priorities. This may require, for example, tailoring regulations, incentives, and outreach to local conditions, administered and enforced by local entities, and where local “buy-in” has been obtained.

The objective of this World Café session will be to explore what success for this wicked problem would look like from the varying perspectives of several stakeholders. While it is clear that partnerships across sectors and among stakeholders will be needed to achieve progress, it is less clear whether the potential partners are envisioning success in the same way. We will explore metrics and milestones that could be agreed upon on the road to improving nutrient, water, and energy use efficiency in a world of increased and sustainable food production.


  • Eric Davidson, Director and Professor, Appalachian Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
  • Deanna Osmond, Professor and Soil Science Department Extension Leader, North Carolina State University


  • Jill Baron, Director, North American Nitrogen Center, U.S. Geological Survey
  • Richard Ferguson, Associate Department Head and Soil Fertility Specialist, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Brandon Hunnicutt, Farmer
  • John McGuire, Technology Advisor, Simplified Technology Services (S2 Partners, LLC)
  • Rachel Nifong, Researcher, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Appalachian Laboratory
  • Cheryl Palm, Senior Research Scientist and Director of Research, Agriculture and Food Security Center, The Earth Institute, Columbia University
  • Pedro Sanchez, World Food Prize Laureate and Director, Agriculture and Food Security Center, Columbia University
  • Jon Slutsky, Dairy Producer, La Luna Dairy and Member, Colorado State Water Quality Control Commission
  • Allison Thomson, Science and Research Director, Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture

Eric A. Davidson is Director and Professor at the Appalachian Laboratory of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Frostburg, MD. He studies nutrient cycling in a variety of ecosystems, including forests and agricultural lands in North and South America. Davidson holds a PhD in forestry from North Carolina State University. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, past President of the Biogeosciences section of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and President-Elect of AGU. He served as the Coordinator of the North American Center for the International Nitrogen Initiative and is the leader of a Research Coordination Network on Reactive Nitrogen in the Environment. (301-689-7204; edavidson@umces.edu)

Dr. Deana Osmond works at the interface of nutrient management, crop productivity, conservation practices, and water quality. The focus of her research and extension program is to work with farmers on implementing nutrient management that optimizes yield while reducing environmental losses. In addition, research and extension activities focus on in-field and edge-of-field practices, such as tillage, riparian buffers, and exclusion fencing to reduce nutrient losses. Finally, Dr. Osmond works on watershed-scale issues to help determine the most cost-effective solutions for reducing nutrient loss. (919-515-7303; deanna_osmond@ncsu.edu)

Dr. Jill S. Baron is an ecosystem ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and a Senior Research Ecologist with the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University. Her interests include applying ecosystem concepts to the management of human-dominated regions, understanding the biogeochemical and ecological effects of climate change, and atmospheric nitrogen deposition to mountain ecosystems. As Director of the North American Nitrogen Center, her interests are in facilitating dialogue, policy, and research to optimize the beneficial use of nitrogen in food production while minimizing damage to human health and environment. Baron also co-directs the USGS Powell Center for Earth System Studies Synthesis and Analysis. (970-491-1968; jill_baron@colostate.edu)

Richard Ferguson is a Professor of Soil Science, Extension Soils Specialist, and Associate Head in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His research focuses on site-specific nutrient management and improving nitrogen use efficiency of irrigated cropping systems. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on site-specific crop management and spatial variability of soil. He coordinates Extension educational programs in Nebraska focused on improving nitrogen use efficiency of irrigated corn and minimizing nitrate loss to groundwater. Dr. Ferguson’s current research addresses the use of crop canopy sensors for improved spatial and temporal management of nitrogen and irrigation water inputs. Dr. Ferguson is a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy and Soil Science Society of America. (402-472-1144; rferguson@unl.edu)

Brandon Hunnicutt farms in Giltner, Nebraska with his dad Daryl and brother Zach. They raise corn, soybeans, popcorn, and seed corn on highly productive, fully irrigated ground. He has led the initiative on the farm to research and utilize different technologies to better manage irrigation and plant nutrients. This has been done through research with both the Univeristy of Nebraska-Lincoln and private industry. The ultimate goal is to become more sustainable both from a utilization standpoint for nutrients and to maximize productivity. (402-604-9199; dirtpoorfarmer@gmail.com)

John McGuire has spent nineteen years in the Precision Agriculture Industry. Currently, he co-owns and co-operates S2 Partners, LLC. Before S2 he worked in many positions within the agricultural supply chain for several companies. In each of his roles, John has broadened his precision agricultural expertise and developed many sustainability related skills. He gained experience in the agriculture retail fertilizer sales during his time with Terra Industries; in genetics through environmental research with Monsanto; in large scale on-farm production with Spatial Ag Systems; and in agronomic consulting with Brookside Laboratories. S2 Partners, LLC is a broad based consulting company that assists clients in creating and implementing plans to achieve maximum return on their agronomic and technology investments. (419-212-0479; mcguire9@gmail.com)

Dr. Rachel Nifong is a postdoctoral researcher at the Appalachian Laboratory, a University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science research facility. Dr. Nifong was a 2012 U.S. EPA STAR Graduate Fellow and recently received her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Ecology from the University of Florida. Previously, she received her BS from North Carolina State University and her MEM from Duke University. She uses an integrative approach, combining aspects of empirical observation, modeling, hydrology, and ecological stoichiometry to address broad-scale ecological questions and inform conservation policy of organisms and the ecosystems they inhabit. Broadly, her research interests focus on understanding how variation in the use and availability of water and nutrients impact the structure and function of ecosystems through time and across scales. (301-689-7127; rnifong@umces.edu)

Cheryl Palm is Senior Research Scientist and Director of Research of the Agriculture and Food Security Center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. A tropical ecologist and biogeochemist, Dr. Palm’s research focuses on land use change, land degradation and rehabilitation, and ecosystem processes in tropical agricultural landscapes. Dr. Palm received her PhD in soil science from North Carolina State University after completing her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in zoology at the University of California, Davis. She has served on the faculties of North Carolina State University, Colorado State University. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy and served as chair of the global International Nitrogen Initiative (INI) from 2008 to 2011. (845-680-4462; cpalm@ei.columbia.edu)

Pedro A. Sanchez is Director of the Agriculture and Food Security Center and Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. He served as Director General of the World Agroforestry Center (previously known as the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, or ICRAF) headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1991 to 2001; as co-chair of the United Nations Millennium Project Hunger Task Force from 2002 to 2005; and as director of the Millennium Villages Project from 2004 to 2010. Sanchez is Professor Emeritus of Soil Science and Forestry at North Carolina State University. He has supervised research programs in over 25 countries in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. He is the 2002 World Food Prize Laureate and a 2004 MacArthur Fellow, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008 and the National Academy of Sciences of the United States in 2012. (845-680-4452; psanchez@ei.columbia.edu)

Jon Slutsky is a first generation dairy farmer who, with his wife, owns and operates a 1,500 cow dairy in Northern Colorado. He has a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of California, Riverside (1972). Jon is General Manager of the dairy and oversees the management of the farm, including 2,900 cows and calves and 27 employees. Jon is a producer member of a Colorado committee working on reducing nitrogen deposition in Rocky Mountain National Park. He is also a member of a USDA funded group producing a web-based tool to help livestock producers reduce air emissions. Jon was a member of the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission from 2007 to 2012 and is currently a member of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. (jslutsky@lalunadairy.com)

Allison Thomson brings 15 years of interdisciplinary research on agricultural systems interactions with energy systems and the environment to the implementation of sustainable agriculture at scale in the U.S. Field to Market is a non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization that unites the commodity crop supply chain (food and retail companies, agribusiness, farmer organizations, conservation groups, universities, and government) around common definitions, measurements, and standards for sustainable agriculture. Using environmental outcome and science based metrics and benchmarks, Field to Market and member organizations are measuring, benchmarking, and working to advance sustainable production. (202-499-4397; athomson@fieldtomarket.org)


  • Eric Davidson, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
  • Jill Baron, Co- Director, John Wesley Powell Center for Earth System Analysis and Synthesis, North American Nitrogen Center – US Geological Survey

Leave a Comment