food and farming

Plenty of Fish on the Farm

Demand for seafood is growing, but many wild fish stocks are already under strain from overfishing. Instead of harvesting more wild fish, aquaculture—or fish farming—is poised to dominate the future of seafood production. While intensive commercial fish farming has taken a toll on the environment, causing habitat loss and pollution problems, next-generation aquaculture systems have the potential to resolve many of these problems by moving fish farming into indoor tanks or offshore fish farms in the open ocean. More energy, however, will be required for these technologies, meaning that a sustainable future for seafood will depend on cheap, clean, abundant energy.

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Food Production and Wildlife on Farmland

Can farmers best protect wildlife by sharing land with animals or sparing land for them? At bottom, the choice between these two approaches implies a stark trade-off when it comes to farmland biodiversity and agricultural productivity: a truly high-yield farm (whether organic or conventional) will have little room to share with wildlife. While opportunities do exist for marginally increasing biodiversity on the farm without reducing productivity—by adopting agroecological practices like crop rotations, for instance, and by employing high-tech tools, synthetic pesticides, and crops with GM traits like Bt—the effectiveness of such management interventions remains limited. As a result, it will be essential to concentrate farmland in locations where biodiversity losses are the least and yield gains the greatest.

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The Future of Meat

As global demand for meat grows, the environmental “hoofprint” of livestock production could grow, too. Demand-side strategies are unlikely to reverse the long historical trend of increasing meat consumption as countries develop economically, but there are ways to improve the environmental performance of livestock systems on the production end. Contrary to popular perception, modern, intensive livestock production can offer environmental efficiencies compared to traditional, lower-input systems. In a world where billions of people want meat on their plates, it will be crucial to leverage the efficiency of intensive systems to meet demand and minimize environmental harm.

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Is Precision Agriculture the Way to Peak Cropland?

Precision agriculture—a set of technologies that optimize inputs to maximize yields—may be the most important innovation for peaking farming's land footprint in the twenty-first century. In this essay, Breakthrough's conservation director Linus Blomqvist and Applied Innovation's David Douglas examine trends in food demand and crop yields, uncovering how precision technologies like sensors and GPS-guided tractors can help farmers grow more food on less land.

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The Future of Food

Towards a Sustainable Food System for a Planet with 9 Billion People

Since the dawn of agriculture, humans have been converting forests, grasslands, and other ecosystems to farmland. While climate change, air and water pollution, and a range of other environmental challenges frequently get the headlines, food production without question represents the single largest human impact upon the environment. Land for crops takes up 12% of Earth’s ice-free land. Add pasture and that percentage climbs to 36%. The long-term conversion of land for agriculture has brought enormous losses to ecosystems and wildlife populations already. The climate impacts are also considerable—15% of global greenhouse emissions come from the agricultural sector. With global food demand expected to grow as much as 70% by 2050, those impacts threaten to grow substantially.

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Food and farming

Issues regarding food and farming.