It is often said that throughout the course of human civilization, three major agricultural revolutions fundamentally altered human trajectory (this is, of course, a wild oversimplification). The first so-called ‘neolithic revolution’ was the transition from hunting and gathering to settled agriculture igniting the beginning of plant and animal domestication. The second accompanied the Industrial Revolution and involved larger scale operations with mechanizing production as well as the introduction to chemical fertilizers to increase yields and make profit. The third, more commonly known as the Green Revolution, began with the use of several different pesticides and the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), plants made to resist pests and increase quality which radically increased yields. Now, in the wake of climate change, farmers across the world are beginning to rethink how we go about farming and animal rearing that could heavily involve artificial intelligence. This begs the question, are we on the edge of the 4th agricultural revolution?
Here at the PWA, regional farming practices can significantly affect our work. Increases in nutrients flowing into a body of water, particularly of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer runoff, can lead to eutrophication and dead zones (areas within an aquatic environment with no oxygen) which can trigger toxic microbial blooms. This is one of the most significant water quality concerns on a global scale.
Agriculture is responsible for a significant amount of greenhouse gases due to the release of methane, chemical pollution from pesticides and herbicides, and the change of land use for expansion, however, robust systems of agriculture are what keeps our growing population fed. As climate change progresses, the increase in temperature poses a threat to agriculture, so it is becoming clear that farms of the future will likely look different than they do today. But what does this mean, and what will it look like? This is what PWA and many others are trying to figure out.
Agriculture and Agrifood Canada’s new program, Living Labs, attempts to accelerate the development and adoption of sustainable practices and technologies by Canadian farmers. It does so by working with a nationwide network of farmers, scientists, and other collaborators to investigate different strategies to sequester carbon and minimize greenhouse gas output. The primary carbon sequestration methods that will be considered are various cover crops, intercropping, conversion of marginal land to permanent cover, and more. Greenhouse gas mitigation will involve investigating different livestock feeding strategies and nutrient management.
Living Labs locations. Photo by Government of Canada https://agriculture.canada.ca/en/environment/climate-change/agricultural-climate-solutions/agricultural-climate-solutions-living-labs
In New Brunswick, the Living Labs lead partner is the Agriculture Alliance of New Brunswick who aims to promote a sustainable and prosperous agriculture industry. Progress is being made on land use planning, environmental issues, and improved regulations to reduce negative impacts on surrounding environments. AANB has an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) to allow producers to develop action plans by assessing the environmental strengths and environmental risks. The EFP encourages management to enhance soil, water, and air quality to decrease harmful effects and maintain biodiversity.
Agricultural Alliance of NB. (n.d.). About Us|Agricultural Alliance of NB. https://fermenbfarm.ca/about- us/
Canada Agriculture and Agri-Food. (2023). Agricultural Climate Solutions – Living Labs. Government of Canada https://agriculture.canada.ca/en/environment/climate-change/agricultural-climate- solutions/agricultural-climate-solutions-living-labs
National Geographic. (n.d.). Dead Zone. National Geographic Education. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/dead-zone/
Park, Irene. (2022). A Timeline of the Three Major Agricultural Revolutions in History. Population Education. https://populationeducation.org/a-timeline-of-the-three-major-agricultural- revolutions-in-history/