Geo-Agriculture: Reviewing Opportunities through Which the Geosphere Can Help Address Emerging Crop Production Challenges

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Pratt, Chris
Kingston, Kate
Laycock, Bronwyn
Levett, Ian
Pratt, Steven
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2020
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http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Abstract

The agricultural sector faces looming challenges including dwindling fertiliser reserves, environmental impacts of conventional soil inputs, and increasingly difficult growing conditions wrought by climate change. Naturally-occurring rocks and minerals may help address these challenges. In this case, we explore opportunities through which the geosphere could support viable agricultural systems, primarily via a literature review supplemented by data analysis and preliminary-scale experimentation. Our objective is to focus on opportunities specifically relating to emerging agricultural challenges. Our findings reveal that a spectrum of common geological materials can assist across four key agricultural challenges: 1. Providing environmentally-sustainable fertiliser deposits especially for the two key elements in food production, nitrogen (via use of slow release N-rich clays), and phosphorus (via recovery of the biomineral struvite) as well as through development of formulations to tap into mineral nutrient reserves underlying croplands. 2. Reducing contamination from farms—using clays, zeolites, and hydroxides to intercept, and potentially recycle nutrients discharged from paddocks. 3. Embedding drought resilience into agricultural landscapes by increasing soil moisture retention (using high surface area minerals including zeolite and smectite), boosting plant availability of drought protective elements (using basalts, smectites, and zeolites), and decreasing soil surface temperature (using reflective smectites, zeolites, and pumices), and 4. mitigating emissions of all three major greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide (using fast-weathering basalts), methane (using iron oxides), and nitrous oxide (using nitrogen-sorbing clays). Drawbacks of increased geological inputs into agricultural systems include an increased mining footprint, potential increased loads of suspended sediments in high-rainfall catchments, changes to geo-ecological balances, and possible harmful health effects to practitioners extracting and land-applying the geological materials. Our review highlights potential for ‘geo-agriculture’ approaches to not only help meet several key emerging challenges that threaten sustainable food and fiber production, but also to contribute to achieving some of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals—‘Zero Hunger,’ ‘Life on Land,’ and ‘Climate Action.

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Agronomy
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10
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7
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© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
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Subject
Crop and pasture production
Science & Technology
Life Sciences & Biomedicine
Agronomy
Plant Sciences
Agriculture
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Pratt, C; Kingston, K; Laycock, B; Levett, I; Pratt, S, Geo-Agriculture: Reviewing Opportunities through Which the Geosphere Can Help Address Emerging Crop Production Challenges, Agronomy, 2020, 10 (7), pp. 971
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