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[EBOOK] Managing Water and Fertilizer for Sustainable Agricultural Intensification, Edited by Pay Drechsel - Patrick Heffer - Hillel Magen - Robert Mikkelsen - Dennis Wichelns

Ask anyone outside agriculture to describe the most important technological advance of the 20th century, and the likely suggestion will be something pertaining to computer technology or the internet. But ask an agricultural researcher, and you’ll likely receive a very different answer. The most important advance of the 20th century was the Haber-Bosch process that enables the artificial manufacturing of nitrogen fertilizer to produce the food we need. It is fitting that both Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch were awarded Nobel Prizes in 1918 and 1931, respectively, for their work in chemistry and engineering.

Yet, crops cannot thrive by nitrogen alone. Long ago (in the 19th century) Carl Sprengel and Justus von Liebig put forth the Law of the Minimum, in which they described how plant growth is limited by the nutrient that is available in shortest supply. Thus, the crop response to additional increments of nitrogen might be nil if potassium or phosphorus or some other essential nutrient is limiting. The same can be said for soil moisture. Plant nutrients, alone, are not sufficient to grow or sustain plant growth without water, and vice versa. And in this day and age of increasing economic and physical water scarcity and an increasing portion of farm expenses attributed to chemical fertilizer, farmers must manage both inputs very closely to ensure they achieve high yields and obtain good returns on their investments, while reducing the possible negative impacts of water and nutrient use on the environment and ecosystem services.

Those of us working in academia, research institutes, and donor organizations must continue to enhance our understanding of agronomy, soil fertility and crop nutrition, and water management to feed the 9 billion people we are expecting by 2050. We need to increase adoption of existing techniques and develop new technologies and crop varieties, if we are to achieve the gains in food production needed. Affordable improvements in nutrient and water management will be especially crucial for the millions of smallholder households that struggle to produce sufficient food and income to sustain their precarious livelihoods in both rain-fed and irrigated settings. Sound agricultural development will remain the backbone for the achievement of many of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals from poverty alleviation to food security.

This book is a timely contribution as it cuts across the water and fertilizer sectors and summarizes the state-of-the-art knowledge on plant nutrition and water management and the challenges we face in achieving the food security component of the Sustainable Development Goals. The authors describe our current understanding of plant nutrient and water interactions, while looking ahead to the best management practices and innovations that will propel crop production to higher levels. The authors also address the issue of sustainability, as only those options that achieve food security and livelihood goals, while also protecting ecosystem services, will be acceptable in the 21st century.

We have come a long way since the remarkable insights and innovation provided by research pioneers in the 19th and 20th centuries. The fundamental principles of agronomy, plant science, and hydrology are well established and timeless. Yet, with increases in population and advances in economic growth, we face new challenges in each century, with regard to food security, livelihoods, and the environment. We can meet the challenges ahead, provided we continue to innovate and integrate our research programmes and transfer new knowledge effectively to farmers and other agriculturists seeking to optimize the interactions between plant nutrients, water, and other agricultural inputs in a sustainable manner. The same integration of efforts is required for those working on sustainable agricultural development at different scales. This book will inform and inspire those engaged in this pursuit.

[EBOOK] Managing Water and Fertilizer for Sustainable Agricultural Intensification, Edited by Pay Drechsel - Patrick Heffer - Hillel Magen - Robert Mikkelsen - Dennis Wichelns

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