Agriculture%20article%20Robertson

Agriculture%20article%20Robertson - REVIEWS REVIEWS REVIEWS...

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38 www.frontiersinecology.org © The Ecological Society of America N owhere is the need for the application of sound eco- logical science more acute than in agriculture. Over 50% of the conterminous land area of the US is cropped or grazed. Globally, the 5 billion ha under agricultural man- agement exceeds the area covered by forests and wood- lands, and some 13 million ha are annually converted to agricultural use, mainly from forests (FAO 2002). Agriculture is the world’s largest industry, and with popula- tion growth leading to increasing basic protein require- ments and economic growth fueling higher rates of per capita consumption, there is a great need for an ever more productive agriculture that protects and promotes environ- mental integrity rather than degrades it (NRC 2003). At its heart, this is an ecological challenge: agronomic yield is ecological productivity writ differently, and the ways that organisms interact among themselves and with their abiotic environments determine both the produc- tive capacity of the agricultural ecosystem and the pro- portion of ecological productivity that can be harvested as plant or animal products. These interactions further determine the rate at which excess nutrients, pesticides, and other pollutants leave the ecosystem for points down- stream and downwind, and the degree to which the agri- cultural system affects the ecology of nearby communi- ties. Yet as a human enterprise agriculture is fundamen- tally a social endeavor shaped by market forces, social and economic policy, and human values. Thus, the future adequacy and environmental impact of agriculture depends on how effectively we understand and manage both the social and ecological elements of agricultural ecosystems (Tilman et al . 2002). Since the development of hybrid corn and the Green Revolution’s subsequent marriage of high-yielding crop varieties with management practices designed to meet these varieties’ high demands for nutrients and pest pro- Front Ecol Environ 2005; 3(1): 38–46 1 Dept of Crop and Soil Sciences and WK Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University, Hickory Corners, MI 49060 ([email protected]); 2 Dept of Agricultural Economics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824 In a nutshell: Agriculture dominates human use of land; more area is under agricultural management than is covered by forest and wood- lands, and conversion continues at 13 million ha per year Modern cropping systems focus on a single ecosystem service, the production of a marketable commodity, yet many other ser- vices are possible Services include clean water and air, pollination, disease sup- pression, habitat for organisms such as songbirds and beneficial insects, and carbon storage Actively managing for multiple services can substantially reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint, but requires pro- duction incentives that reward environmental stewardship These incentives, whether trade-based or policy-based, must
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Agriculture%20article%20Robertson - REVIEWS REVIEWS REVIEWS...

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