Planet earth will be home to another 2 billion people by 2050. However, one of humanity’s most significant challenges — managing conflicting demands on land use — falls largely on the shoulders of agribusiness professionals. Modern world leaders will have to manage resources including water, soil and energy through sustainable, holistic practices in order to balance concerns. The greatest land concerns of the 21st century include the following:
- Facilitating less exploitive resource management practices
- Preserving and restoring critical habitats and biodiversity
- Keeping the whole ecosystem of natural resources in balance
- Improving soil health and fertility through nutrients
- Balancing needs for pesticides with health risks to humans
- Managing water quality
- Increasing food production
- Choosing renewable energy sources
- Addressing the impacts of climate change
- Globalizing these initiatives to create sustainable practices around the world
Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology (AKST) is the key to addressing these natural resource management (NRM) issues and mitigating the many growing risks. Students in the Arkansas State University Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in Agricultural Business online program prepare to impact the future of agriculture through a curriculum that emphasizes ethical leadership, international business, enterprising technology, decision-making methods and social responsibility. As one of the most comprehensive MBA programs available to current and aspiring agribusiness leaders, the program aims to advance AKST and NRM in the context of production economics for a more sustainable future.
As a brief introduction to NRM in agribusiness, these are some of the most important resources that industry leaders must manage with intention:
According to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), scientists have concluded that 17 nutrient elements in soil are essential to the productive growth and development of plants: carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and molybdenum. With rapid farming of genetically engineered crops in order to feed a growing population, the soils have become depleted of these nutrients, and food has lost some of its nutritional value.
At the same time, cleared forests have led to extreme soil erosion. As a result, half of all agricultural topsoil has been lost in the past 150 years, which has contributed to a reduction in the nutritional value of produce.
The solution is not simply a matter of discovering new ways to enrich the soils with organic or chemical fertilizers. A healthy soil system must also have organic matter and food on which microorganisms can thrive. Striking the right balance is necessary to optimize crop yields, nutrient density and produce freshness.
Agriculture accounts for a large and fast-growing percentage of total freshwater use (69% of the planet’s fresh water, according to the WWF). As the population grows, the need for sustainable farming irrigation systems grows. Farms with some form of irrigation account for well over 50% of the total value of U.S. crop sales. Luckily, irrigation has become more cost-effective through the years. Between 1969 and 2017, the average irrigation application rate declined from more than 2 acre feet per acre irrigated to just under 1.5 acre feet per acre irrigated.
Still, drought effects and groundwater depletion have led to a need for more efficient irrigation. Moreover, with climate change poised to cause more unpredictability in rain patterns, continual improvements in local irrigation organization and water delivery are necessary. In addition, innovators must address the degradation of water quality by agribusiness and the impact on biodiversity.
According to the WWF, farming practices including burning fields and using gasoline-powered machinery have significantly contributed to the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases. The livestock sector alone is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas production. Land clearing for agricultural production is also a major contributor to climate change because of the carbon released from forests when they are cut or burned. The use of fossil fuels and land clearing also threaten to decimate wildlife habitats and biodiversity. Clearly, many of today’s agricultural energy practices are not sustainable for a growing population.
Fortunately, federal incentives such as the 2002 Farm Security and Rural Investment Act have incentivized agribusiness investment in renewable energy systems. Solar (from heat collecting panels), wind (from turbine farms) and biomass (from plants and organic waste) energy are sustainable practices, and renewable energy produced on farms can even be sold to replace fuels or as a cash crop.
The science of producing food is one of the most critical issues in the 21st century, as the challenge of supporting human life and biodiversity on an increasingly crowded planet grows by the day. Earning an MBA with a concentration in agricultural business can be the key to unlocking your career potential in the future of agribusiness.