Keywords: Environmental impact, Agriculture and society, Ecology, Ideology.
This paper deals with very general questions associated with plant nutrient management and agriculture. Without attempting to be complete, it tries to group and discuss a number of aspects related to the identity crisis in agriculture experienced by many of the people active in the branch or in research into its problems. However, this is not just a matter of subjective experience by the people involved in agricultural production directly or indirectly. It is well-known that today agriculture is looked upon in a different light compared to the situation only some decades ago. Does this depend on changes inside or outside agriculture – or both?
Some of the important questions in this context are:
What are the fundamental ecological characters of agriculture? Does modern industrial agriculture represent something qualitatively new or is it primarily fulfilment of the mainly original efforts of the farmer? In which basic aspects has agriculture become better or worse? Is it foods, the environment, the agro-ecosystem, or the non-renewable resources that are damaged by industrial agriculture in comparison with pre-industrial?
Does the sceptical attitude to agriculture found in society today depend on its poorer way of handling environmental and resource problems? Or is it possibly the case that the general public and its attitudes have changed, which imply that the same ecological, economic and technical facts are valued differently in a post-industrial society where agriculture does not have the same cultural hegemony as it used to have?
The answer to these questions is of major importance for how Ã¢â‚¬Å“weÃ¢â‚¬Â should behave and react to the scepticism of the general public and the demands of society. Must we return to traditional well-known Ã¢â‚¬Å“non-chemicalÃ¢â‚¬Â methods or develop completely new methods and systems? Does this imply that the agricultural sector has to become more Ã¢â‚¬Å“ecologicalÃ¢â‚¬Â to become appreciated again, or is it instead the case that agriculture and society must grow accustomed to a new and different relationship to each other?
My review and discussion on these matters is based on my activities with research and extension on environmental impact of agriculture. This has given cause for thought on why certain phenomena, such as fertilisers and pesticides, have achieved such symbolic value in the public debate on food and agriculture, and why "alternative" or "ecological" concepts can have received such an impact both politically and in public opinion. Having studied something of the basics of the history of ideas I have come to understand that changes in values need not have direct and close relationships with the latest critical reviews of specific agricultural knowledge. The research made on changed values relating to man, nature and animals has confirmed this.
Olle Pettersson, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden.
28 pages, 3 figures.