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Dr. Walther - APES Agricultural Project: Home

About the Assignment


Each student will be responsible for presenting a side in a debate about a current agricultural practice and its environmental, economic, and social impact. Every statement you make in this debate must be backed up by reliable sources. You will submit an annotated bibliography with at least 3 sources at your final debate. You will have 3 minutes to explain your side of the debate, with an additional 1 minute for questions. You may use visual aids.


Irrigation use

Monoculture and mono-cropping versus polyculture and crop rotation

GMO versus plants/animals produced by traditional plant/animal breeding

Free-range versus CAFO

Aquaculture versus wild-caught fish

Antibiotic use in livestock

Hormone use in livestock (ex: rBST)

Organic versus inorganic fertilizer use

Green revolution - overall improvement in agriculture or not?

Some helpful notes about finding sources

  • Credible sources have an identifiable author who is at best, an expert in their field, but at least should be a person with notable expertise derived from their education and/or experience. In other words, not Wikipedia, not Yahoo Answers, not Quora, not LiveStrong, not YouTube...

  • Bias is very common among sources about these issues. Take note when an author makes unsubstantiated statements, seems to present only one side of the issue, or comes from a biased background. It may be impossible to find completely unbiased sources, but make sure you separate fact from opinion to the best of your ability.

  • Finding new or newer studies that have examined these issues will be important to building a strong argument.

  • You may use people as sources.

  • Peer-reviewed research journals are good sources, though the technical jargon may be difficult to understand. Look for a literature review or metadata analysis published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Annotated bibliography

For each of your 3 sources (or more, if you like), provide a formal citation and an annotation, a paragraph or series of paragraphs about the source that describes the source and its author, includes information about the strengths and weaknesses of the source, and describes what specific information you used from it. For examples of an annotated bibliography try this page: How to write an annotated bibliography


Definitions of terms

Organic - type of agriculture where only certain kinds of pesticides and fertilizers may be used. Primarily relies on ecosystem management instead of inputs such as inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics and the like. Certification requires that certain chemical inputs and GMOs are avoided but permits use of certified organic inputs such as pyrethrum extracts, bt-toxins, rotenone, sulfur, and lime. Alternative methods of pest and disease control are often used, such as crop rotation, insect-excluding screen and hoop-houses, and releasing natural enemies of pests such as parasitic wasps and ladybugs.


Conventional agriculture - a broad term encompassing many types of agricultural practice, but typically refers to agriculture that can use inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, GMOs, monocultural fields, and seasonal tillage for weed control.


Integrated Pest Management (IPM) - a research-based approach to pest management that makes use of frequent pest monitoring to select the most appropriate means of pest control. Favors least-toxic, ecosystem management tools first, but if pest populations reach economic injury levels after these low-toxiciy methods have already been applied, the IPM strategy will be to escalate to application of the appropriate pesticide that may have higher toxicity until pest populations fall below the economic injury level.


Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) - AFOs, CAFOs, and feedlots are places where animals are reared in a small space where the food is brought to them rather than allowing them to graze. CAFOs have a higher livestock density than an AFO. Animals may be confined in a barn or kept in small pens.


Free-range - a type of livestock management which allows the animals to spend at least some time outdoors foraging for food under natural conditions. Fences and pens may be used to restrict movement and herding may be used to control movement, but livestock are kept at lower densities than the typical AFO.


Wild-caught - fish and shellfish that are obtained by fishermen from wild stocks which may be managed by fishing regulations but are typically not fed or monitored for health as in aquaculture.


Aquaculture - aquaculture is the farming of fish and shellfish in netted pens submerged in a lake, stream, or ocean. Aquaculture can also take place in artificial ponds on land. Some aquaculture takes wild-caught young fish and confines and feeds them until they reach market weight.


Genetically modified organism (GMO) - a plant, animal, or microbe which has DNA that has been introduced from another organism or otherwise engineered in order to give it useful characteristics. Examples: 1) bt-corn contains a gene from bacteria that give the corn the ability to produce bt-toxin, an insecticidal protein. 2) roundup-ready soybeans which contain a gene engineered to make them resistant to the herbicide roundup, which makes weed control easier in the field


Traditional plant/animal breeding - the process of producing varieties of plants and animals for agriculture by breeding different genetic lines together and testing the offspring for the desired traits. Synonymous with artificial selection, the process used to guide the evolution of breeds of animals and plants with specific characteristics.


Antibiotic - a medicine that is toxic to bacteria, sometimes used prophylactically, to prevent infection before it has occurred. Sometimes added to the diet to increase growth rate of certain livestock.


Hormones - natural chemical messengers produced by the body to communicate between organs. Growth hormones and sex hormones are administered to livestock to encourage growth, increase milk production, and regulate reproduction.


No-till - No-till is an agricultural practice that does not frequently turn over or till the soil, leaving the superficial layers of soil intact.


Conventional tillage - this agricultural practice uses the tilling or turning over of the soil to bury pests and weeds and improve soil drainage. There are many types of tilling that each have advantages and disadvantages.


Organic fertilizer - fertilizer that comes from organic sources such as compost, manure, worm castings, and guano.


Inorganic fertilizer - fertilizer that is either mined or produced by chemical processes (Haber process is most common)


Monoculture and mono-cropping - growing the same crop, often the same genetic variety of the same crop, across an entire field. Monoculture is a more general term, including the use of a single crop for one season followed by another crop during another season- known as crop rotation. Mono-cropping specifically refers to growing the same crop year after year in a single field.


Polyculture - a method for reducing pest and disease problems by planting more than one crop in a field at the same time. The opposite of monoculture (planting only 1 crop at a time in a field). See also crop rotation.


Crop rotation - growing a different crop year after year in a field. The opposite of mono-cropping (planting the same crop in a field year after year). A commonly used crop rotation in the US is corn - soybeans.


Irrigation - bringing water to crops using various methods such as flood, furrow, spray, or drip. Center-pivot spray irrigation is most commonly used in the US. Irrigation can use ground water or surface water. Irrigation can lead to salinization and waterlogging.


Green revolution - a period of technological innovation (1950-1970) which has allowed for increased crop yields. Norman Borlaug is considered a key figure for developing new wheat varieties that had improved yields and lacked the problems of old varieties. Green revolution techniques included use of monocultures of these improved varieties, increased use of inorganic fertilizer, irrigation, and chemical pesticides.