Uncontrolled climate change, loss of biodiversity and depletion of finite resources require a comprehensive response from society. Agriculture must play its role too, if only because of the relationship of these issues with fertilisers. Circularity is often presented as a kind of panacea to reduce emissions, save wilderness and avoid further use of fossil resources.
However, wherever crops are no longer grown, processed and consumed in each other’s vicinity, re-establishing circularity is a complicated task and not self-evident. In as far as circularity is proposed to stop local leakages, the present intensification of agriculture in developed countries may need reconsideration. However, this can have serious implications for land claims at the expense of wilderness, the role of animals and manures, the composition of our diets or the aspired transition to a bio-based instead of oil-based economy. Technological progress will help to find solutions but probably only within limits. The 2019 Francis New Memorial Lecture tries to shed some light on the numerous dilemma’s and challenges of a circular agriculture.