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Agriculture is the business of growing crops and raising animals. Often called farming, agriculture can be an important part of a working landscape. Farming is a lifestyle and a business, but it also requires knowledge of science and nature. The combination of the social element, the economic element, and the ecological element make agriculture a good candidate for a working landscape.

There are some things farmers cannot control and some things they can. Farmers cannot control the weather, the price they get for their crops, or how bad the insects will be in a year. They can control how they farm, which is very important to the health of a working landscape.

The following is a summary of farming practices and issues that challenge a farm's role in a working landscape.

Two Types of Farming
Growing Crops
Crops like corn, wheat, cotton, and soybeans are grown to produce food and products we use everyday.


Raising Livestock
Animals, like cows and pigs, are raised for food like hamburgers and bacon. The also supply materials for products we use everyday, like belts and shoes.

Problems Farmers Have Little Control Over
The availability of water can determine the life or death of crops and livestock. Irrigation (watering crops) is a key issue. Periods of extreme drought and flooding complicate the issue of irrigation.

Problems Farmers Have a Great Deal of Control Over
Chemical Pesticides and Fertilizers
Farmers often apply chemicals to their fields to either help add nutrients to the soil or to destroy unwanted insects, weeds, and animal pests. The chemicals can do one of two things. They either break down into harmless products, or they remain toxic. In either case, they find their way into our underground aquifers or run off directly into our lakes, rivers, and streams. This means they can end up in our drinking water, or they may affect unintended organisms that are not on the farm.

Farmers can minimize their use of chemicals or even grow crops organically. They can also look for safer alternatives like integrated pest management, which uses pesticides as little as possible, looks at ways the environment can help control pests, and modifies the way a farm is run in order to reduce pests.

Soil erosion is the most severe agricultural problem. When water and wind have access to bare ground, they rob a landscape of top soil and nutrients. Dirt in our air impacts air quality. Dirt in our water can also make it unfit to drink. But conservation tillage practices (ex., contouring, terracing) can minimize soil erosion.

Overgrazing occurs when all of the vegetation is consumed by the animals feeding on a landscape. The land becomes susceptible to soil erosion. Controlled grazing can prevent this. Reintroduction of native animals that do not overgraze is another option (ex., bison, elk).

Feedlots are areas where a large number of animals are confined to a small area. They often threaten the land's ability to maintain itself. The land may not be able to handle the large number of animals that rely on it. The health of the land and the health of the animals are at risk.

Ranchers can make sure their animals have room to roam. They can rotate grazing animals from field to field.

Manure management deals with this question: after the animals "do their business," what do we do with it? Manure makes great fertilizer, but applying too much will result in pollution of our water supply. It can be placed in confinement ponds, but that only intensifies the smell. Confinement ponds allow solid waste to settle to the bottom of the pond and not run off into our sources of drinking water like rivers and streams.

Other Potential Issues

Biotechnology is the genetic engineering of crops that have desirable traits like pest and drought resistance. The effects on other crops, biodiversity, and the ecosystem remain to be seen.

Solutions for Working Landscapes
Thoughtful farming can be a component of a working landscape, but if problems associated with agriculture are not addressed, a working landscape cannot exist. Fortunately, there are many good practices to prevent problems and save the land.

Farmers who are aware of the problems associated with growing crops and raising animals and take action to solve these problems are rewarded with a special relationship to the land. They are also rewarded financially. The ultimate reward is a working landscape for future generations to use and enjoy.

What do you think?
How can agriculture best fit within a working landscape?



Explore More: Working Landscapes
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
The Explore More project is supported by funds from the
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
and the USDE Star Schools Program.






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