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Agroecologist Aaron Iverson became a NatureNet fellow at Cornell in 2015. Working with plant ecologist Alison Power, Iverson plans to develop novel forms of sustainable agriculture to help local farmers limit toxic agrochemicals and produce abundant harvests. 

Aaron Iverson: Preserving Farm Biodiversity

October 12, 2015

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Agroecologist Aaron Iverson became a NatureNet fellow at Cornell in 2015. Working with plant ecologist Alison Power, Iverson plans to develop novel forms of sustainable agriculture to help local farmers limit toxic agrochemicals and produce abundant harvests.

Iverson’s interest in agroecology started with his work as an agricultural development coordinator for an organization in Mozambique, where he saw the financial constraints of small-scale farmers. In his University of Michigan PhD research, Iverson studied how coffee farms in Mexico and Puerto Rico can be profitable while preserving biodiversity.

These experiences challenged him to tackle a different kind of problem: the dual challenge of preserving biodiversity and producing sufficient food. Why can’t farmers do both? Iverson notes that much of agriculture depends on ecosystem services that result from biodiversity or the habitat that sustains it.

“This is a clear paradox, but it is not a necessary one, as many productive agricultural systems around the world do not have a large negative impact on biodiversity,” Iverson says. “I am interested in digging deeper into this question and learning how biodiversity can best be maintained in agricultural areas.”

In a departure from previous Cornell NatureNet projects, Iverson will take a local perspective on the problem, collaborating with several farms in central New York that differ in management strategies and landscape. He is still zeroing in on the type of farm he will study: it could be “apple, vegetable, or field crops,” he says.

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Finding the right farms to work with is just one of the challenges he will face. Iverson’s goal is twofold—and ambitious. First, he wants to give farmers practical management recommendations for increasing biocontrol and pollination services on their farms. Second, he aims to provide conservation organizations with guidelines that describe how agricultural lands can most effectively protect biodiversity.

Iverson’s pragmatic combination of low-cost agricultural strategies and sound environmental policy will help farms around central New York thrive.