Ever since the birth of agriculture around 10,000 years ago, humans have constantly sought new ways of raising the crops and livestock that feed, heat and clothe large populations. Modern science has brought incredible advances to the field of agriculture, but some of these advances have brought downsides with them.
Improved crop yields are one of the major benefits of modern agricultural techniques. According to the Global Harvest Initiative, the production of grain and oilseed crops has more than doubled since the 1970s. The amount of land devoted to these crops has not increased nearly as much, thanks to more efficient growing techniques. These increased crop yields play a major role in feeding the burgeoning global population. Without modern crop farming, many more people around the world would be threatened by hunger and more areas of wilderness would have to be turned into farmland.
Although many people have concerns about the use of genetically-modified crops, advances in plant genetics have delivered some benefits to farmers. Plant strains designed to be resistant to insects or other threats combine with crops that are modified to be easier to plant without tilling to reduce the energy consumption of farming and limit farmers' vulnerability to natural threats. Genetically-modified crops can also be designed to be treated with less harmful pesticides, reducing the contamination of water supplies.
Not all effects of modern farming techniques are positive. Modern crop farming often involves very large farms which grow only one or two species of plant; historically, small farms tended to produce a much more diverse range of crops. In turn, these diverse farms played host to a wide variety of wildlife species. Large monocultural farms can threaten or destroy the habitats of local wildlife unless steps are taken to provide for biodiversity. They also decrease the genetic diversity within crop species, which could have negative long-term consequences.
Lack of robustness
Many modern farms are geared toward cash-crop production. These farms produce crops for sale rather than supporting the farmers directly. In the modern global marketplace, this has many economic benefits, but it can leave communities vulnerable. If cash crops fail, or if global price fluctuations reduce their value, agricultural communities in the developing world may find themselves threatened by hunger. In this way, the increased specialisation of modern agriculture can leave farmers more at the mercy of the market.
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- BASF: Biodiversity and Agriculture
- The Conversation: Genetically-modified Crops Shrink Farming's Pesticide Footprint
- Global Harvest Initiative: Modern Agriculture and Its Benefits
- University of California at Berkeley: Modern Agriculture - Ecological Impacts and the Possibilities for Truly Sustainable Farming