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ecology, enviromental agriculture, farm systems


It would seem that agriculture in industrialized countries is experiencing 'the best of times' and 'the worst of times'. Productivity per unit of land and, consequently, aggregate food and fiber output have climbed dramatically since World War II. Food is generally 'cheap' relative to average per capita incomes. However, the costs of this abundance are becoming increasingly apparent. Drinking water supplies are becoming contaminated, bird and fish populations have declined, plant and animal biodiversity has been lost, and soil organic matter has declined. Also, agriculture appears increasingly vulnerable to human and animal health scares. Witness the recent outbreaks in Europe of 'mad cow disease' (bovine spongifonn encephalopathy, or BSE) and 'foot and mouth disease'. Moreover, hired farm laborers and animal slaughtering house workers often are poorly paid and work in unsafe conditions. In spite of the abundant and cheap food supplies, poverty and malnutrition persist among some groups within the larger, affluent societies of industrialized countries. Persistently 'low' crop prices have caused governments to continue-and even increase-large direct payments to farmers to support their incomes. Add to these concerns the increasing economic concentration and vertical integration within both the agricultural supply sector and the agricultural processing and marketing sector that are causing farmers to feel ever more vulnerable to 'market forces'.


Department of Economics, South Dakota State University

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