Other Ecosystem Services

The main ecosystem service from agricultural systems is simply to 'feed the world'. This simple fact is easily forgotten in the richer parts of the world. However, even in Europe, which for centuries has been thoroughly under agriculture, there are other ecosystem services that are appreciated. In the forest-dominated northern Europe, agriculture actually contributes to biodiversity and landscape diversity. Without agriculture, the forest would cover all land area - the only open areas at lower altitudes would be the lakes and rivers (and the newly clear-cut forest areas, rapidly covered by shrubs). The European rural landscape in general, that is so refreshing for the city-dweller, is an agricultural product.

In other areas of the world, where the agricultural land is not sufficient to properly feed the population, other ecosystem services become relatively less important. However, if agricultural productivity can be increased, some agricultural land can be returned to savanna, forest, or other natural or seminatural states - which would be another type of service from the agroecosystem.

Since the agroecosystem is managed, and more or less sophisticated machinery and management skills are in place, it can easily be converted according to new demands from the society. If the quality requirements are met, agricultural fields can be used for recycling organic waste and ashes, and even for drawing nutrients out of sewage water. Conversion to energy crops is not too difficult (grasses, sugar beet, willow, sugarcane, etc.). Another demand from society, to sequester carbon in the soil to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, has recently received much attention. Increasing soil carbon content usually has beneficial effects for soil structure, water-holding capacity and general fertility, and C sequestration, perhaps even with direct payments per ton C sequestered to the farmer, is a new potential service.

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