Edited by Guy M. Robinson and Doris A. Carson
Chapter 2: Agriculture and environment: fundamentals and future perspectives
AbstractThe complexities of agricultural systems are central to the discussions in this chapter. The underpinning environmental constraints of agriculture are explored together with how farming practice has striven to overcome these limitations and extend agricultural opportunities. At the same time, worldwide, agriculture has triggered major changes to ecosystems and Earth environments, driving forest clearance and extension of ‘grasslands’ and generating changes in hydrological regimes, edaphic properties, local climates and biodiversity loss. Getting it right in terms of future agricultural processes able to feed the world’s people, while maintaining, and benignly enhancing, the natural resource base is a major challenge. As history shows, getting it wrong can lead to catastrophic environmental failure, pollution and resource loss and, it is asserted, even to societal collapse. A key consideration is to understand the challenging underpinning interdisciplinary science. The process of photosynthesis is examined and options to improve crop productivity, including through its genetic modification, are discussed. At the same time the implications of rising carbon dioxide levels are investigated. The challenges for achieving reliable and good-quality water supplies are explored and the importance of maintaining optimal growing environments, including consideration of livestock ‘comfort’, is reviewed. The essential need for suitable soils and the characteristics that ensure, and detract from, good soil resources are discussed. By integrating work from disparate specialist studies of plant and animal behaviour, genetics, soils and water management, climatic modification and ecosystem processes we can deepen our understanding of agricultural systems and see where solutions to current challenges may be found.
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