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CHAPTER SIXTEEN Agriculture

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Abstract

this observation about agriculture: Monoculture has increased production efficiency but has reduced the plant and wildlife diversity essential to a stable ecosystem. These less complex ecosystems are highly susceptible to attack by insects and diseases which can devastate a standing crop or single species regionwide. Moreover, monoculture has forced a heavy dependence on pesticides and fertilizers. In the 25 years since the first edition of Environmental Quality, the nation has come to value “plant and wildlife diversity” as biodiversity and to adopt “stable” ecosystems as a goal of the federal government. Continued agricultural productivity goes hand-in-hand with a public awareness that the way the nation grows its food and fiber affects all aspects of the environment and impacts all types of ecosystems. In response, federal farm policy has begun to include initiatives to address public concerns for natural resources and environmental quality. Since about 60 percent of U.S. land is in private ownership (70 percent if Alaska is excluded), according to the Department of Agriculture, agriculture’s environmental agenda must target the practicing farmer and rancher. About 2 percent of the U.S. population grows much of the nation’s food and fiber, with enough excess to export quantities to other countries. How agricultural land is managed has far-reaching impacts on the state of the environment, from air and water pollution to biodiversity and stable ecosystems. Conditions and Trends Since 1950, the total amount of land in U.S. farms—including cropland, forestland, and grazing land—has declined from 1.16 billion acres to 950 million acres in 1992 (Figure 16.1 and Part III, Table 51). Over this same period, the amount of cropland has remained fairly stable, staying within the 460-470 millionacre range (Part III, Table 49). Since 1970, the trend in the United States has been toward fewer and larger farms (Figures 16.2 and 16.3) that are increasingly specialized, mechanized, labor-efficient, and capital-intensive. In the past decade, U.S. farm output per unit of input has increased by 26 percent. The factors responsible for this growth include increased use of fertilizers and pesticides, plus improvements in hybrid plant varieties and animal breeding practices. In the 1970s, high worldwide demand for U.S. farm commodities, fueled by crop shortages abroad, encouraged a federa

Year: 2011
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