Ecological Intensification

Ecological Intensification (EI) is the concept of increasing grain yields closer to their genetic potential, while reducing environmental consequences of soil degradation, water pollution and resource exhaustion. The goal is to achieve yields within 80-85 percent of their physiological maximum for a given soil and climate. Achieving this will require improved agronomic management that achieves 70-80 percent nitrogen fertilizer uptake efficiency (currently about 30-50 percent depending on crop and cropping system), water use efficiencies of 90-95 percent in irrigated systems, a large net energy ratio, and a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The goals of Ecological Intensification can be summarized as:

  • Increased yield per unit of land (by producing closer to a crop’s attainable yield)
  • Improved input management (through optimum use of nutrients, pesticides and water)
  • Reduced environmental degration (due to less soil and chemical runoff)
  • Habitat preservation (by keeping set aside, marginal lands, and native ecosystems out of production)

Because of the rising human population, demand for grain, as well as demand for biofuel, such as corn grain ethanol and biodiesel is increasing. The goal is to provide sufficient food and fuel to meet demand, but to also protect soil, water, and resource endowments into the future on land currently under cultivation and undeveloped land. Ecological Intensification is needed to significantly increase yield on currently cultivated lands, to both protect soil and water resources associated with these acres, and to avoid expansion of production to new acres, especially on marginal land not suited for continuous crop production or natural ecosystems that provide habitat for wildlife and biodiversity [1].

Using the latest technology and best management practices, Ecological Intensification should improve soil quality and provide a net positive energy balance for food, feed, fiber, and biofuel. Significant research and improved crop management will be required to reach these goals. Practices such as precision agriculture, integrated pest management, and real-time water and fertilizer management will be required in these production systems.

For additional information, visit: