Background information in world agriculture


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The decline of ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean region, Pre-Columbian southwest U. Water is the principal resource that has helped agriculture and society to prosper, and it has been a major limiting factor when mismanaged. Water supply and use. In drought years, limited surface water supplies have prompted overdraft of groundwater and consequent intrusion of salt water, or permanent collapse of aquifers.

Periodic droughts, some lasting up to 50 years, have occurred in California. Several steps should be taken to develop drought-resistant farming systems even in "normal" years, including both policy and management actions:. Water quality. The most important issues related to water quality involve salinization and contamination of ground and surface waters by pesticides, nitrates and selenium.

Tile drainage can remove the water and salts, but the disposal of the salts and other contaminants may negatively affect the environment depending upon where they are deposited. In the long-term, some farmland may need to be removed from production or converted to other uses. Other uses include conversion of row crop land to production of drought-tolerant forages, the restoration of wildlife habitat or the use of agroforestry to minimize the impacts of salinity and high water tables.

Another way in which agriculture affects water resources is through the destruction of riparian habitats within watersheds. The conversion of wild habitat to agricultural land reduces fish and wildlife through erosion and sedimentation, the effects of pesticides, removal of riparian plants, and the diversion of water. The plant diversity in and around both riparian and agricultural areas should be maintained in order to support a diversity of wildlife. This diversity will enhance natural ecosystems and could aid in agricultural pest management.

Modern agriculture is heavily dependent on non-renewable energy sources, especially petroleum. The continued use of these energy sources cannot be sustained indefinitely, yet to abruptly abandon our reliance on them would be economically catastrophic. However, a sudden cutoff in energy supply would be equally disruptive. In sustainable agricultural systems, there is reduced reliance on non-renewable energy sources and a substitution of renewable sources or labor to the extent that is economically feasible. Many agricultural activities affect air quality. These include smoke from agricultural burning; dust from tillage, traffic and harvest; pesticide drift from spraying; and nitrous oxide emissions from the use of nitrogen fertilizer.

Options to improve air quality include:. Soil erosion continues to be a serious threat to our continued ability to produce adequate food. Numerous practices have been developed to keep soil in place, which include:.

How the Netherlands Led a Food Revolution

Sustainable production practices involve a variety of approaches. Specific strategies must take into account topography, soil characteristics, climate, pests, local availability of inputs and the individual grower's goals. Despite the site-specific and individual nature of sustainable agriculture, several general principles can be applied to help growers select appropriate management practices:.

Selection of species and varieties that are well suited to the site and to conditions on the farm; Diversification of crops including livestock and cultural practices to enhance the biological and economic stability of the farm; Management of the soil to enhance and protect soil quality; Efficient and humane use of inputs; and Consideration of farmers' goals and lifestyle choices.

Preventive strategies, adopted early, can reduce inputs and help establish a sustainable production system.

Dawn of agriculture

When possible, pest-resistant crops should be selected which are tolerant of existing soil or site conditions. When site selection is an option, factors such as soil type and depth, previous crop history, and location e. Diversified farms are usually more economically and ecologically resilient. By growing a variety of crops, farmers spread economic risk and are less susceptible to the radical price fluctuations associated with changes in supply and demand.

Properly managed, diversity can also buffer a farm in a biological sense. Also, cover crops can have stabilizing effects on the agroecosystem by holding soil and nutrients in place, conserving soil moisture with mowed or standing dead mulches, and by increasing the water infiltration rate and soil water holding capacity. Using a variety of cover crops is also important in order to protect against the failure of a particular species to grow and to attract and sustain a wide range of beneficial arthropods. Optimum diversity may be obtained by integrating both crops and livestock in the same farming operation.

This was the common practice for centuries until the mids when technology, government policy and economics compelled farms to become more specialized. Mixed crop and livestock operations have several advantages. First, growing row crops only on more level land and pasture or forages on steeper slopes will reduce soil erosion. Second, pasture and forage crops in rotation enhance soil quality and reduce erosion; livestock manure, in turn, contributes to soil fertility. Third, livestock can buffer the negative impacts of low rainfall periods by consuming crop residue that in "plant only" systems would have been considered crop failures.

Finally, feeding and marketing are flexible in animal production systems. This can help cushion farmers against trade and price fluctuations and, in conjunction with cropping operations, make more efficient use of farm labor. A common philosophy among sustainable agriculture practitioners is that a "healthy" soil is a key component of sustainability; that is, a healthy soil will produce healthy crop plants that have optimum vigor and are less susceptible to pests. While many crops have key pests that attack even the healthiest of plants, proper soil, water and nutrient management can help prevent some pest problems brought on by crop stress or nutrient imbalance.

In sustainable systems, the soil is viewed as a fragile and living medium that must be protected and nurtured to ensure its long-term productivity and stability. Methods to protect and enhance the productivity of the soil include:. Conditions in most California soils warm, irrigated, and tilled do not favor the buildup of organic matter. Regular additions of organic matter or the use of cover crops can increase soil aggregate stability, soil tilth, and diversity of soil microbial life. Many inputs and practices used by conventional farmers are also used in sustainable agriculture.

Sustainable farmers, however, maximize reliance on natural, renewable, and on-farm inputs. Equally important are the environmental, social, and economic impacts of a particular strategy. Converting to sustainable practices does not mean simple input substitution. Frequently, it substitutes enhanced management and scientific knowledge for conventional inputs, especially chemical inputs that harm the environment on farms and in rural communities.

The goal is to develop efficient, biological systems which do not need high levels of material inputs. Growers frequently ask if synthetic chemicals are appropriate in a sustainable farming system. Sustainable approaches are those that are the least toxic and least energy intensive, and yet maintain productivity and profitability. Preventive strategies and other alternatives should be employed before using chemical inputs from any source.

However, there may be situations where the use of synthetic chemicals would be more "sustainable" than a strictly nonchemical approach or an approach using toxic "organic" chemicals. For example, one grape grower switched from tillage to a few applications of a broad spectrum contact herbicide in the vine row.

This approach may use less energy and may compact the soil less than numerous passes with a cultivator or mower. Management decisions should reflect not only environmental and broad social considerations, but also individual goals and lifestyle choices. For example, adoption of some technologies or practices that promise profitability may also require such intensive management that one's lifestyle actually deteriorates.

Management decisions that promote sustainability, nourish the environment, the community and the individual. In the early part of this century, most farms integrated both crop and livestock operations. Indeed, the two were highly complementary both biologically and economically.

The current picture has changed quite drastically since then. This is the result of a trend toward separation and specialization of crop and animal production systems. Despite this trend, there are still many farmers, particularly in the Midwest and Northeastern U. Even with the growing specialization of livestock and crop producers, many of the principles outlined in the crop production section apply to both groups. The actual management practices will, of course, be quite different. Some of the specific points that livestock producers need to address are listed below.

This tool is useful for:. The rest of this page delves further into the philosophy and practices underpinning sustainable agriculture. Or visit the links to the right to visit practical pages for practicing sustainable agriculture. Agriculture has changed dramatically, especially since the end of World War II.

Food and fiber productivity soared due to new technologies, mechanization, increased chemical use, specialization and government policies that favored maximizing production. These changes allowed fewer farmers with reduced labor demands to produce the majority of the food and fiber in the U.


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Although these changes have had many positive effects and reduced many risks in farming, there have also been significant costs. A growing movement has emerged during the past two decades to question the role of the agricultural establishment in promoting practices that contribute to these social problems. Today this movement for sustainable agriculture is garnering increasing support and acceptance within mainstream agriculture.

Not only does sustainable agriculture address many environmental and social concerns, but it offers innovative and economically viable opportunities for growers, laborers, consumers, policymakers and many others in the entire food system. This page is an effort to identify the ideas, practices and policies that constitute our concept of sustainable agriculture. We do so for two reasons: 1 to clarify the research agenda and priorities of our program, and 2 to suggest to others practical steps that may be appropriate for them in moving toward sustainable agriculture. Because the concept of sustainable agriculture is still evolving, we intend this page not as a definitive or final statement, but as an invitation to continue the dialogue.

A variety of philosophies, policies and practices have contributed to these goals. People in many different capacities, from farmers to consumers, have shared this vision and contributed to it. Despite the diversity of people and perspectives, the following themes commonly weave through definitions of sustainable agriculture:. Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

An emphasis on the system allows a larger and more thorough view of the consequences of farming practices on both human communities and the environment. A systems approach gives us the tools to explore the interconnections between farming and other aspects of our environment. This requires not only the input of researchers from various disciplines, but also farmers, farmworkers, consumers, policymakers and others.

Making the transition to sustainable agriculture is a process. Family economics and personal goals influence how fast or how far participants can go in the transition. It is important to realize that each small decision can make a difference and contribute to advancing the entire system further on the "sustainable agriculture continuum.

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Each group has its own part to play, its own unique contribution to make to strengthen the sustainable agriculture community. The remainder of this page considers specific strategies for realizing these broad themes or goals. They represent a range of potential ideas for individuals committed to interpreting the vision of sustainable agriculture within their own circumstances. When the production of food and fiber degrades the natural resource base, the ability of future generations to produce and flourish decreases.

The decline of ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean region, Pre-Columbian southwest U. Water is the principal resource that has helped agriculture and society to prosper, and it has been a major limiting factor when mismanaged.

Water supply and use. In drought years, limited surface water supplies have prompted overdraft of groundwater and consequent intrusion of salt water, or permanent collapse of aquifers. Periodic droughts, some lasting up to 50 years, have occurred in California. Several steps should be taken to develop drought-resistant farming systems even in "normal" years, including both policy and management actions:. Water quality. The most important issues related to water quality involve salinization and contamination of ground and surface waters by pesticides, nitrates and selenium.

Tile drainage can remove the water and salts, but the disposal of the salts and other contaminants may negatively affect the environment depending upon where they are deposited. In the long-term, some farmland may need to be removed from production or converted to other uses. Other uses include conversion of row crop land to production of drought-tolerant forages, the restoration of wildlife habitat or the use of agroforestry to minimize the impacts of salinity and high water tables.

Another way in which agriculture affects water resources is through the destruction of riparian habitats within watersheds. The conversion of wild habitat to agricultural land reduces fish and wildlife through erosion and sedimentation, the effects of pesticides, removal of riparian plants, and the diversion of water. The plant diversity in and around both riparian and agricultural areas should be maintained in order to support a diversity of wildlife.

This diversity will enhance natural ecosystems and could aid in agricultural pest management. Modern agriculture is heavily dependent on non-renewable energy sources, especially petroleum. The continued use of these energy sources cannot be sustained indefinitely, yet to abruptly abandon our reliance on them would be economically catastrophic. However, a sudden cutoff in energy supply would be equally disruptive. In sustainable agricultural systems, there is reduced reliance on non-renewable energy sources and a substitution of renewable sources or labor to the extent that is economically feasible.

Many agricultural activities affect air quality. These include smoke from agricultural burning; dust from tillage, traffic and harvest; pesticide drift from spraying; and nitrous oxide emissions from the use of nitrogen fertilizer. Options to improve air quality include:. Soil erosion continues to be a serious threat to our continued ability to produce adequate food.

Numerous practices have been developed to keep soil in place, which include:. Sustainable production practices involve a variety of approaches. Specific strategies must take into account topography, soil characteristics, climate, pests, local availability of inputs and the individual grower's goals. Despite the site-specific and individual nature of sustainable agriculture, several general principles can be applied to help growers select appropriate management practices:. Selection of species and varieties that are well suited to the site and to conditions on the farm; Diversification of crops including livestock and cultural practices to enhance the biological and economic stability of the farm; Management of the soil to enhance and protect soil quality; Efficient and humane use of inputs; and Consideration of farmers' goals and lifestyle choices.

Preventive strategies, adopted early, can reduce inputs and help establish a sustainable production system. When possible, pest-resistant crops should be selected which are tolerant of existing soil or site conditions. When site selection is an option, factors such as soil type and depth, previous crop history, and location e. Diversified farms are usually more economically and ecologically resilient.

By growing a variety of crops, farmers spread economic risk and are less susceptible to the radical price fluctuations associated with changes in supply and demand. Properly managed, diversity can also buffer a farm in a biological sense. Also, cover crops can have stabilizing effects on the agroecosystem by holding soil and nutrients in place, conserving soil moisture with mowed or standing dead mulches, and by increasing the water infiltration rate and soil water holding capacity. Using a variety of cover crops is also important in order to protect against the failure of a particular species to grow and to attract and sustain a wide range of beneficial arthropods.

Optimum diversity may be obtained by integrating both crops and livestock in the same farming operation. This was the common practice for centuries until the mids when technology, government policy and economics compelled farms to become more specialized.

Agriculture in South Africa - Crop Farming

Mixed crop and livestock operations have several advantages. First, growing row crops only on more level land and pasture or forages on steeper slopes will reduce soil erosion. Second, pasture and forage crops in rotation enhance soil quality and reduce erosion; livestock manure, in turn, contributes to soil fertility. Third, livestock can buffer the negative impacts of low rainfall periods by consuming crop residue that in "plant only" systems would have been considered crop failures.

Finally, feeding and marketing are flexible in animal production systems. This can help cushion farmers against trade and price fluctuations and, in conjunction with cropping operations, make more efficient use of farm labor. A common philosophy among sustainable agriculture practitioners is that a "healthy" soil is a key component of sustainability; that is, a healthy soil will produce healthy crop plants that have optimum vigor and are less susceptible to pests.

While many crops have key pests that attack even the healthiest of plants, proper soil, water and nutrient management can help prevent some pest problems brought on by crop stress or nutrient imbalance. Costs to human health and safety Industrial farming is bad for the health of workers, eaters, and downstream neighbors.


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  • What is sustainable agriculture | Agricultural Sustainability Institute.
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  • The History of Agriculture.
  • Summary | Transgenic Plants and World Agriculture | The National Academies Press.

Here are some of its costly health impacts: Pesticide toxicity. Herbicides and insecticides commonly used in agriculture have been associated with both acute poisoning and long-term chronic illness. Junk food. Industrial agriculture, especially in the central United States, mostly produces commodity crops like corn and soybeans.

These crops are used to make the processed foods that dominate the US diet, with serious —and enormously costly —health impacts. Antibiotic resistance. The overuse of antibiotics in CAFOs has accelerated the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which has taken a toll both in lives and health care dollars. Damage to farmland and the rural environment The soils of the American Corn Belt were once celebrated for their fertility.

Background

This leads to several kinds of costs, including: Depletion. Monoculture exhausts soil fertility, requiring costly applications of chemical fertilizers. Soils used to grow annual row crops and then left bare for much of the year have poor drought resistance , increasing irrigation costs. Monoculture degrades soil structure and leaves it more vulnerable to erosion , resulting in costs for soil replacement, cleanup, and lost farmland value.

Lost biodiversity. Industrial farms don't support the rich range of life that more diverse farms do. As a result, the land suffers from a shortage of the ecosystem services, such as pollination, that a more diverse landscape offers.

background information in world agriculture Background information in world agriculture
background information in world agriculture Background information in world agriculture
background information in world agriculture Background information in world agriculture
background information in world agriculture Background information in world agriculture
background information in world agriculture Background information in world agriculture
background information in world agriculture Background information in world agriculture
background information in world agriculture Background information in world agriculture
background information in world agriculture Background information in world agriculture
Background information in world agriculture

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