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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Soils, Land and Food: Managing the Land During the Twenty-First Century.

Author
item Wienhold, Brian

Submitted to: Soil Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: August 1, 2003
Publication Date: September 1, 2003
Citation: WIENHOLD, B.J. 2003. SOILS, LAND AND FOOD: MANAGING THE LAND DURING THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY. SOIL SCIENCE 168:748-749.

Interpretive Summary: At a time when many developed countries are experiencing surplus grain production it is often difficult to discuss the need for increasing production. In spite of the current situation, trends in the human population strongly suggest that production will have to increase to meet demands within the next 30 years. In addition, a number of regions are currently not self-sufficient in food production and need to increase capacity. Soils, Land and Food: Managing the land during the twenty-first century combines historical accounts of attempts to improve food production in developing areas and recent successes in India and China with population and food projections as a roadmap for agricultural development. This roadmap identifies the farmer as the key player in agricultural development who must be granted land tenure as an incentive for adopting good management practices and must have an opportunity for making a profit as incentive for increasing production beyond a subsistence level. Historical accounts of agricultural development include examples from several regions. Some of the developments cited were successful while others failed. The importance of land inventory and capacity assessment are cited as being essential components of agricultural development to prevent land degradation. Advances in India and China are described as following a "ladder of development" where land was brought into production, cropped until the fertility fell, and then fertilizer and improved varieties were used to increase productivity. This approach is contrasted to that occurring in the Cerrado of Brazil where soil properties have been identified and inputs of fertilizer and lime are used as production is initiated. The major difference is availability of capital for the inputs. The author suggests that the approach used in India and China should also work in Africa with the dual caveats that land be surveyed for potential productivity and risk to degradation and that expansion be controlled to prevent the extinction of valuable plants and animals. The author provides a short review about the potential for bringing new land into production and the variation in this potential from region to region. For regions where new land is not available, yields will have to be increased through the adoption of new technologies, the author provides the criteria needed to facilitate this adoption. Farmers will adopt new technologies only when they have assessed that the value of the increased production will be greater than the cost of the extra inputs. A reliable profit serves as Incentive for the farmer and is the first of the four "I's" identified as necessary for agricultural production to meet increasing demand. Farmers will also need Information regarding management practices and marketing of their product. This requires research to develop crop varieties adopted to the area, fertilizer and pest control practices, and post harvest handling of the crop. Further Investment will be needed to develop the infrastructure needed to deliver supplies to the farmer and transport agricultural products from where they are produced to markets. Finally, Innovation will be needed as each region is unique and practices will have to be modified to cope with the distinct set of soil, climate, and social conditions. The author contends that agricultural production has, in the past, met increasing demand when farmers were able to make their own management decisions and the four "I's" were in place. The approaches outlined by the author for agricultural development are based on history. The author provides four uncertainties that will change conditions from what they were historically and will create conditions to which agricultural will have to adopt as future development proceeds. There is still great uncertainty about the magnitude of population changes in certain regions and

Technical Abstract: At a time when many developed countries are experiencing surplus grain production it is often difficult to discuss the need for increasing production. In spite of the current situation, trends in the human population strongly suggest that production will have to increase to meet demands within the next 30 years. In addition, a number of regions are currently not self-sufficient in food production and need to increase capacity. Soils, Land and Food: Managing the land during the twenty-first century combines historical accounts of attempts to improve food production in developing areas and recent successes in India and China with population and food projections as a roadmap for agricultural development. This roadmap identifies the farmer as the key player in agricultural development who must be granted land tenure as an incentive for adopting good management practices and must have an opportunity for making a profit as incentive for increasing production beyond a subsistence level. Historical accounts of agricultural development include examples from several regions. Some of the developments cited were successful while others failed. The importance of land inventory and capacity assessment are cited as being essential components of agricultural development to prevent land degradation. Advances in India and China are described as following a "ladder of development" where land was brought into production, cropped until the fertility fell, and then fertilizer and improved varieties were used to increase productivity. This approach is contrasted to that occurring in the Cerrado of Brazil where soil properties have been identified and inputs of fertilizer and lime are used as production is initiated. The major difference is availability of capital for the inputs. The author suggests that the approach used in India and China should also work in Africa with the dual caveats that land be surveyed for potential productivity and risk to degradation and that expansion be controlled to prevent the extinction of valuable plants and animals. The author provides a short review about the potential for bringing new land into production and the variation in this potential from region to region. For regions where new land is not available, yields will have to be increased through the adoption of new technologies, the author provides the criteria needed to facilitate this adoption. Farmers will adopt new technologies only when they have assessed that the value of the increased production will be greater than the cost of the extra inputs. A reliable profit serves as Incentive for the farmer and is the first of the four "I's" identified as necessary for agricultural production to meet increasing demand. Farmers will also need Information regarding management practices and marketing of their product. This requires research to develop crop varieties adopted to the area, fertilizer and pest control practices, and post harvest handling of the crop. Further Investment will be needed to develop the infrastructure needed to deliver supplies to the farmer and transport agricultural products from where they are produced to markets. Finally, Innovation will be needed as each region is unique and practices will have to be modified to cope with the distinct set of soil, climate, and social conditions. The author contends that agricultural production has, in the past, met increasing demand when farmers were able to make their own management decisions and the four "I's" were in place. The approaches outlined by the author for agricultural development are based on history. The author provides four uncertainties that will change conditions from what they were historically and will create conditions to which agricultural will have to adopt as future development proceeds. There is still great uncertainty about the magnitude of population changes in certain regions and countries. Climate change will improve agronomic conditions in some regions and will have a negative effect on agriculture in other regions but the exact effect is uncertain. Increased urbanization and population growth will compete with agriculture for land, water, energy and capital providing uncertainty about availability of resources needed to increase agricultural production. Finally there is uncertainty at the macroeconomic level that will influence development of the infrastructure needed to support agricultural production. This book provides a concise overview of challenges to increasing agriculture production, historical approaches to confronting these challenges, and speculation about future challenges. While the need to increase agricultural production is largely understood, approaches for meeting that need are still uncertain. This book will be useful for those interested in increasing their understanding of how future agricultural production will attempt to meet increasing needs and uncertainties involved in that attempt.

Last Modified: 11/20/2014
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