Increased use of agrochemicals, irrigation and farm machinery in recent years in OECD countries has led to increased energy use, pollution of ground and surface water and in some places soil erosion.
But agriculture can also have a beneficial effect on the environment, helping with land conservation, flood prevention and absorption of carbon dioxide from the air.
OECD countries are forecast to cut fuel use for agriculture between 1995 and 2020, but this decrease will be more than offset by increased fuel use in non-OECD countries, according to OECD Environmental Outlook.
Methane emissions, mainly from ruminant animals and handling of manure, are forecast to increase to 9% by 2020 in OECD countries and 22% worldwide, while organic pollution of waterways will soar to 200% in non-OECD countries and barely 30% in the OECD.
But carbon dioxide emissions from agriculture account for only 1% of the total in OECD countries, and are expected to fall by 15% between 1995 and 2020 with further improvements in farm equipment efficiency.
©OECD Observer No 226/227, Summer 2001