Agricultural science (also called agronomy) is a broad multidisciplinary field that encompasses the parts of exact, natural, economic, and social sciences that are used in the practice and understanding of agriculture. (Veterinary science is often excluded from the definition.)
Agriculture and agricultural science
The two terms are often confused. However, they cover different concepts:
- Agriculture is the set of activities that transform the environment for the production of animals and plants for human use. Agriculture concerns techniques, including the application of agronomic research.
- Agronomy is research and development related to studying and improving agriculture.
Agricultural sciences include research and development on:
- Production techniques (e.g., irrigation management, recommended nitrogen inputs)
- Improving production in terms of quantity and quality (e.g., selection of drought-resistant crops, development of new pesticides, yield-sensing technologies, simulation models of crop growth, in-vitro cell culture techniques)
- Transformation of primary products into end-consumer products (e.g., production, preservation, and packaging of dairy products)
- Prevention and correction of adverse environmental effects (e.g., soil degradation, waste management, bioremediation)
Agricultural science: a local science
Research in agronomy, more than in any other field, is strongly related to local areas. It can be considered a science of ecoregions, because it is closely linked to soil properties and climate, which are never exactly the same from one place to another. Many people think an agricultural production system relying on local weather, soil characteristics, and specific crops has to be studied locally. Others feel a need to know and understand production systems in as many areas as possible.
Agricultural sciences evolution
Agronomy today is very different from what it was before about 1950. Intensification of agriculture since the 1960s in developed and developing countries, often referred to as the Green Revolution, was closely tied to progress made in selecting and improving crops and animals for high productivity, as well as to developing additional inputs such as artificial fertilizers and phytosanitary products.
However, environmental damage due to intensive agriculture, industrial development, and population growth have raised many questions among agronomists and have led to the development and emergence of new fields (e.g., integrated pest management, waste treatment technologies, landscape architecture, genomics).
New technologies, such as biotechnology and computer science (for data processing and storage), and technological advances have made it possible to develop new research fields, including genetic engineering, improved statistical analysis, and precision farming.
Agricultural sciences and agriculture crisis
Agriculture sciences seek to feed the world's population while preventing biosafety problems that may affect human health and the environment. This requires promoting good management of natural resources and respect for the environment.
Economic, environmental, and social aspects of agriculture sciences are subjects of ongoing debate. Recent crises (such as mad cow disease and issues such as the use of genetically modified organisms) illustrate the complexity and importance of this debate.
Fields of agricultural science