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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Technology, Complexity and Change in Agricultural Production Systems

Authors
item Sassenrath, Gretchen
item Heilman, Philip
item Luschei, E. - UNIV WISCONSIN
item Bennett, Gary
item Fitzgerald, G. - DEPT. PRIMARY IND. AU
item Klesius, Phillip
item Tracy, W. - UNIV WISCONSIN
item Williford, Julius
item Zimba, Paul

Submitted to: Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: October 12, 2007
Publication Date: December 1, 2008
Citation: Sassenrath, G.F., Heilman, P., Luschei, E., Bennett, G.L., Fitzgerald, G., Klesius, P.H., Tracy, W., Williford, J.R., Zimba, P.V. 2008. TECHNOLOGY, COMPLEXITY AND CHANGE IN AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION SYSTEMS. Renewable Agriculture and Food System 23(4):285-295

Interpretive Summary: Agriculture has been greatly altered by technological developments. Many of these technologies have arisen from a desire to overcome particular limitations to crop and animal production. Genetic improvements in both plants and animals have contributed greatly to enhancements in yield and quality. Traditional breeding methods have been supplanted with more specific modifications of the genome at the molecular level. Mechanization of farming operations has increased the speed, accuracy, and safety of routine field maintenance, especially of harvest operations. Emerging environmental issues have led to the development of conservation systems. While still under development, these systems conserve critical soil and water resources while maintaining profitability. Newly developing technologies in information sciences offer a means of integrated the different parts of the production puzzle for information gathering and decision support. These information technologies have been largely developed in other fields, most notably computer science, and adapted for agricultural production. Implementing technologies into agricultural production has often led to an increasing complexity in the system, an intensification of production, and an enhanced reliance on future technology. An examination of the impacts of previous technological adoption on agriculture is important in considering future technological needs.

Technical Abstract: Technological advances have greatly impacted agricultural production. Some innovations have been specifically designed to address problems or shortcomings in current production practices, while others have been borrowed from other disciplines and adapted to agriculture. Many of the advances in agricultural production have been developed by enterprising farmers. While development of a technology is still largely driven by a need to address a problem, adoption is dependent on a wide variety of increasingly complex factors, including social, political, and economic pressures. Here, we explore the processes of innovation and adoption of technologies, and how they have impacted agriculture. We examine the impact of specific innovations in genetic improvements, mechanization, conservation systems, and information systems. Traditional improvements in agricultural production have focused on increasing yield through circumventing environmental and genetic constraints. Increasing complexity of agriculture has expanded the types of constraints and concerns being addressed. Farmers and agricultural researchers realize the need for increasingly clever solutions to emerging problems arising from an ever-broadening array of constraints. Conservation systems and information technologies explore the entire production system, and integrate the individual components of agricultural production. The consequences of technological advances have often been an increasing complexity in the production system, an intensification of production, and an enhanced reliance on future technology. A challenge of these changes in agricultural production and the needs of producers is how agricultural research can best solve the emerging problems of this increasingly complex system.

Last Modified: 11/28/2014
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