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Agricultural accomplishments and impending concerns
- The thin layer of soil on the earth's surface performs many functions essential to life. Humankind has known of the importance of this resource for thousands of years, but formal study of soils began only in the 1800s using knowledge acquired in the basic sciences of physics, chemistry, and biology. During the mid-1800s, much of the infrastructure for soil science was put into place. Land-grant universities and experiment stations were established, and funding mechanisms for conducting research were created. In the early 1900s, as the number of scientists grew and the level of research activity increased, professional societies were formed, and scholarly journals began publication. Research efforts during this time concentrated on understanding water movement and nutrient availability largely as it applied to crop production. As a consequence of natural and human aggravated disasters, such as the American dust bowl in the 1930s, management practices were developed to reduce wind and water erosion and conserve the soil resource. In the 1960s, environmental awareness grew, and research efforts were directed at understanding the processes involved in environmental contamination, development of management practices to reduce the potential for environmental contamination, and procedures to remediate contaminated sites. Soils research has accomplished much, providing us with a thorough understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological properties and processes of soils, determining the role of soils in environmental quality, and developing the management practices used to produce a bountiful food supply. However, despite these accomplishments and continued demands for soils-related information, soil scientists are currently facing many challenges. A steady supply of inexpensive, high quality food produced by less than 2% of a largely urban population has left the majority of people with little appreciation of the problems and challenges facing agriculture. Competing interests for budget dollars have left funding for agricultural research level or in decline in recent years. In addition, the current crisis in agriculture has resulted in a lower market share than ever before being returned to farmers, leaving producers with little incentive or flexibility to change management practices. Soil scientists must work with these challenges to ensure that the science is available to address critical problems facing society, namely: population pressure and the need for increasing agricultural productivity; competing uses for land and water resources; dependence on nonrenewable resources; and environmental quality, especially in developing countries. Facing current challenges and solving future problems will likely require that soil scientists conduct research differently than in the past, with greater emphasis on holistic team- and interdisciplinary analyses of problem areas, followed by reductionist disciplinary research that ensures optimal use of research resources.
Wienhold, B.J. , Power, J.F. , Doran, J.W.
soil science , history , agricultural research , environmental management , food production , resource allocation , environmental protection , soil degradation
- Includes references
- Soil science Jan 2000. v. 165 (1)
Journal Articles, USDA Authors, Peer-Reviewed
- Works produced by employees of the U.S. Government as part of their official duties are not copyrighted within the U.S. The content of this document is not copyrighted.