Submitted to: Agricultural Systems
Publication Type: Peer reviewed journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/16/2010
Publication Date: 1/21/2011
Citation: Rains, G.C., Olson, D.M., Lewis, W.J. 2011. Redirecting technology to support sustainable farm management practices. Agricultural Systems. 104:365-370. DOI:10.1016/j.agsy.2010.12.008. Interpretive Summary: Agricultural technology has increased farm production to unprecedented levels. However, return on investment is diminishing and environmental concerns conflict with current input intensive farm practices. Conventional technologies and their application such as crop breeding and management practices have focused on monocultural systems that are dependent on chemical inputs to produce optimum yields. Current profit margins are low or non-existent with these conventional non-sustainable practices and must be changed if the family farm is to survive. We propose an ecologically based approach to farm management that strives to reduce reliance on chemically intensive inputs through better use of multiple attributes inherent within agroecosystems. This approach requires a redirection in the development and application of current and emerging technologies. Examples of redirections in research and development programs for pest management practices, genetic engineering, and precision agriculture necessary to provide a more ecologically-based and sustainable farming approach are illustrated.
Technical Abstract: Agroecosystems operate in accordance with basic ecological principles. The well-known S-shaped curve depicts the typical progressive development of an ecosystem, whereby growth of vegetation and animals begins slowly, then rapidly increases and subsequently levels off. Oscillations are greatest during the rapid growth phase with equilibrium and stability becoming maximized at the upper plateau where the system reaches its climax. Conventional agricultural practices typically operate in the linear portion of this curve and in opposition to the progression toward equilibrium. We utilize the popular equation I = P•A•T, which declares environmental impact as directly proportional to population growth (P), social affluence (A), and new technology (T) to illustrate the problem and present a solution. This equation has been framed as I = P•A•T1, with T1 representing technology stemming from the first industrial revolution. With a shift to cyclic, renewable, and nature friendly technology defined as T2 and functioning in the denominator of the equation, I = P•A/T2, T would become part of the solution rather than the problem. Herein, we propose specific examples for redirecting agriculture research, development, and management practices to provide and implement T2 technologies to replace T1 technologies.