Agriculture’s success in feeding the world for several decades has had its drawbacks.

As farming became boringly efficient, research funding dried up, business looked elsewhere for high-yielding investment and the best and brightest students looked for more exciting fields to study.

Since the food price shock of 2008, those attitudes seem to have changed.

Last week, for instance, The Economist’s cover story was ‘How to feed the world’, in which the magazine noted that soaring levels of investment in agriculture are in conflict with a new era of protectionism based on food security concerns.

(Time magazine’s cover was ‘Banking on trees’, a crop that may also play a big part in the farms of the carbon-conscious future.)

The Economist’s weighing into the discussion is part of a global reawakening to the central importance of agriculture to human affairs.

This fresh appreciation is bringing a flood of new investment to the area (if not yet a flood of new profits to farmers) – but with the rewards of the stardom also come some downsides.

For farmers, the downside is likely to be increased environmental scrutiny and red tape.

In September, the science journal Nature published an article arguing that humanity had corrupted three “planetary boundaries” so badly that they could affect the future habitability of the earth.

The boundaries are climate change, biodiversity and nitrogen usage.

Writing for the journal Yale Environment 360, journalist Fred Pearce pointed out that “today, much of the nitrogen in our bodies comes not from biological sources but from giant chemical factories. We are, in a real sense, as much chemistry as biology.”

Addressing our fixation with nitrogen, which one researcher has described as “an immense and dangerous experiment”, will ultimately deliver better productivity, as will addressing climate change–but not before farmers experience a whole new level of unwelcome interest in how they do what they do.

Source: Farm Weekly

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