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Soil expert seeks effective management of revolutionary land use changes

Story supplied by LU Press Office

Professor John Quinton Professor John Quinton

Rapidly increasing demands for food, fibre and fuel, together with the advent of new technologies, are driving revolutionary land use changes throughout the world.

Amidst the pressure to use 'rangelands' (landscapes considered to be too poor for agriculture) Lancaster Environment Centre soil science expert Professor John Quinton warns the move demands a new mindset, careful planning and innovative management.

Professor Quinton recently contributed to an article published in a special issue of Rangeland Ecology and Management, the publication for the Society of Range Management.

Professor Quinton co-wrote the article Revolutionary Land Use change in the 21st Century: Is (Rangeland) Science Relevant? with lead author and friend Jeff Herrick, of the United States Department of Agriculture, in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

"It came out of collaboration and discussions we had and I subsequently spent two weeks in New Mexico and this is the outcome," he explained.

In the US, rangeland management came about, as a profession, because of a decline in quality of these lands (grasslands, shrub lands, woodlands, wetlands and deserts) due, in part, to overgrazing and free access policies. With ecologically based management, the condition of these lands has improved over the past century and around 80% of non-federal lands are now considered healthy.

It is envisaged rangeland management will have a new role to play in future global food security and millions of hectares of rangeland, much of it of marginal quality for crop production, will be converted to croplands.

"In this article, we argue that the revolutionary land use changes necessary to support national and global food security potentially make rangeland science more relevant now than ever," explains Professor Quinton.

"There is huge pressure, given current increasing demands, to change land for agriculture, growing biofuels and converting it to solar energy parks. The concern is that the land isn't able to cope with these changes. Our point is that it should be scientifically identified which of the vulnerable areas are able to cope with these radical changes."

Traditionally people who have worked on rangeland have only considered grazing. With new encroachments it's not just about grazing any more. It's opening up a mindset."

Thu 07 February 2013