Farms have been producing food on an industrial scale since the Second World War, often involving growing the same crops (monoculture) and using large amounts of pesticides and fertilisers. These approaches to farming can have negative environmental impacts, and in recent decades there have been an increasing number of attempts to limit these, on a small and large scale.
This is also driven by population growth: food production will need to be 60 per cent higher in 2050 than it was in 2006.
Broadly, efforts include promoting sustainable agriculture which involves looking after the natural systems and resources that farms rely on, including soil and air; minimising climate pollution; and promoting biodiversity.
Organic farming—a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people—relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of artificial inputs such as chemical pesticides or fertilisers. However, some researchers have found that organic products can sometimes be harmful to the environment.
The quest for efficient agricultural production processes and sustainable solutions to scarcity of natural resources has led to innovation in cleantech applications for agriculture. Key areas of investment include biotechnology, sensors and data management robotics for the agriculture and food industries; and better crops, better data, and better food.
One hotly debated issue related to biodiversity is the effect of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on biodiversity and human health.
Proponents of genetically engineered food maintain crops can be altered to better withstand droughts and pests, producing better yields and therefore contributing to economic growth and development, especially in the world’s poorer communities. In the US more than 90 percent of all soybean, cotton and corn acreage is used to grow genetically engineered crops, and GM seeds are used all over the world.
Critics object to GMO use based on a range of reasons including ethical concerns, ecological concerns and concern over the claiming of intellectual property rights by large corporations.
New approaches to farming can also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions reductions through measures such as: enriching soil carbon through minimising tillage; using less fertiliser and adding biochar to increase its carbon-storage capacity; farming with perennials; adopting a more climate-friendly approach to livestock production, including a reduction in numbers and rotational grazing; protecting natural habitats by minimising the effects of forest and grass fires, and limiting deforestation and land clearances; and restoring degraded watersheds and rangelands.