Agriculture Update: Suggested Readings

The Committee has identified three specific background documents that provide a broad and relatively neutral overview of the complex set of issues addressed by U.S. agricultural policy and three websites that provide similar types of information, but from the website sponsor’s point of view. The Committee would like to point out that although we have done our best to identify “neutral” background resources, each of the documents and websites is presenting information that is consistent with the mission of the authors and/or sponsoring organization, so League members must be willing to read widely to get a balanced understanding of the agricultural policy challenges facing the U.S. in particular and the world in general.

While these documents and websites are not a formal part of the Update's reading materials that will be issued later, the committee feels that they will provide useful background reading for members that are not familiar with agriculture issues.


1.     The first recommendation is the administration’s perspective on the key agricultural policy issues that need to be addressed in 2013 as reported in Challenges and Opportunities in U.S. Agriculture (Chapter 8 of the Economic Report of the President- 2013). Although the content of this 28-page report goes beyond the specific topics in the Update Scope, the Committee considers it an excellent introductory document offering background on such topics as the role of agriculture in the U.S. economy, structural changes that have taken place since the 1920s, the development of new markets (e.g., organic, local), the contribution of research and development to productivity growth, agriculture in world trade, and the challenges of agricultural risk management. The document can be downloaded in PDF using the following link:

2.     The second document is a Union of Concerned Scientists policy brief entitled The Healthy Farm: A Vision for U.S. Agriculture.  This is an 8-page position statement by the UCS and is, therefore, not entirely neutral. We selected it because it looks at farming from a variety of perspectives (production, economics, and environment) and a variety of farming systems (industrial, conventional, organic, etc.), offering examples of technologies and management practices able to contribute to the UCS vision of a healthy farm. The report contains many useful references and links.

3.     The third document is a short article from Scientific America entitled Will Organic Fail to Feed the World? The article presents a summary of a recent analysis of 66 studies comparing conventional and organic methods for 34 different crop species. There are numerous live links providing definitions of terms and additional reading.


1.     Know Your Farmer is a site supported by USDA in their effort to inform the public about local food systems (what they are, how they can be promoted, resources available to consumers and farmers, etc.). A good place to enter this website is the “tools and resources” page, from where you can navigate to other parts of the website:

2.     The National Sustainable Agriculture Council supports the promotion of “sustainable” agriculture as defined by U.S. Code Title 7, Section 3103. Although the materials on their website do support their mission, we find that their articles are well documented and do a good job of following Farm Bill legislative efforts that would help or hinder the sustainable agriculture movement.   We suggest that you enter their website via the page that defines sustainable agriculture and then navigate to other topics of interest.

3.     The “Food Dialogues” website is a creation of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and brings together thought leaders and practitioners from all points of view for moderated, civil webinar discussions.  It could be characterized as presenting the “farmer/rancher” point of view; but in moving around the site it becomes clear that there is no “single” farmer/rancher point of view. This is the most difficult of the websites to navigate and caution must be taken to select a variety of webinars and views to get a balanced picture on issues covered. Starting at the home page of this website gives you an opportunity to link to some of the recent topics discussed on their Facebook page: From the home page you can also click on the “learn about agriculture/food sources” tab which brings you to links addressing a number of issues that will be covered by the Update.