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About the content

Crop production: learn about agriculture and food production for the future

How much food will be available for humankind in the future? Feeding nine billion people in 2050 without exhausting the planetary reserves is perhaps the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.

In this course of the XSeries in environmental studies, you will examine the principles of crop production. You will learn about the ‘availability pillar’ of global food security that lies at the heart of food production, applicable to both crops and animal production. This course will discuss why yields in some parts of the world are lagging behind and identify the agro-ecological drivers that shape the broad diversity of production systems. Also, key issues relating to the closing of yield gaps and the difference in visions of sustainability will be explored.

Systems-based approach at Wageningen University

The University of Wageningen offers an excellent combination of conducting research worldwide and educating in the area of ‘healthy food and living environment’. Through its unique systems-based approach to food systems, the institute adds the phase of primary production to the broad context of global food security.

This is why you should sign up

If you want to enrich your views and action perspectives related to global food security and food systems, you can sign up as a:

  • international student
  • professional with a varied educational background

After successful completion of both practice and graded questions related to this course, you will:

  • Understand the basic concept of plant production
  • Be able to value central issues related to global food production and consumption
  • Understand the influences of water scarcity and water availability on crop production, as well as measures suppressing pests, diseases, and weeds
  • Be able to identify processes that cause significant environmental problems and evaluate measures to solve and prevent those problems be able to judge innovations in food crop production on their merits for the rural population in the different geographical regions

A verified edX certificate provides proof for an employer, school, or other institution that you have successfully completed this online course.

In this course, you will learn about crop production from professor Ken E. Giller: 

  • The principles of production ecology
  • How to use resources most efficiently for crop production
  • To identify which biophysical principles are constraining factors in yield formation
  • To assess yield gaps at the level of fields and production systems around the world, contributing to efficient resource management

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Prerequisite

Undergraduate basic biology

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Syllabus

Week 1: Introduction
This first week we are setting the scene for the global food situation today and projected demand and supply options tomorrow. Covering the four pillars of global food systems, we will zoom in on availability issues, and more in particular on crop production, as central theme of this course. Photosynthesis plays a key role in this process, turning solar light into food, which fuels mankind. Analogously to physical principles applied in building houses, you’ll be acquainted to the bio-physical principles in growing crops.
 
Week 2: Potential production
Potential production is the simplest representation of crop growth, defined by the crop's genetic potential and the ambient growth factors radiation, temperature and carbon dioxide concentration in the air. Under perfect crop management, with no limitation of water and nutrients, and a weed, pathogen and pest free environment, crops reach their potential production. This week focuses on the conversion of carbon dioxide into plant biomass as powered by solar radiation, with temperature as modifying factor. Based on variation in solar radiation and temperature around the globe, you’ll be able to calculate potential crop yields for different locations.
 
Week 3: Water limited production
In the process of fixing carbon dioxide from the air into biomass, crops inevitably lose water by transpiration. When transpired water from the leaf surface is not adequately replenished through water uptake by the roots, crop production becomes water-limited, resulting in lower yields. Accounting for the evaporative demand of the air and water availability to the crop, water-limited production can be assessed. Conversely, to reach potential yield, you may determine the amount of water required through irrigation, as a yield increasing measure.
 
Week 4: Nutrient limited production
In addition to water, nutrients are essential to crop production to support physiological processes, like photosynthesis. Various nutrients are absorbed from the soil by the roots. When nutrient availability falls short, production becomes nutrient-limited. In that situation nutrient application by manure or artificial fertilizers is a yield increasing measure..
 
Week 5: Actual production
Actual crop production refers a situation where production is further reduced by effects of weed, pests (insects, mites, nematodes, rodents, and birds), diseases (fungi, bacteria, viruses) and/or pollutants. This introduces an extra level of complexity in plant production. In spite of intensive crop protection measures in some parts of the world, the actual production is the common production situation for the majority of the world's agricultural production systems. We will look at how weeds, and pests and diseases affect crop yields and what measures can be taken to prevent losses.
 
Week 6: Synthesis
Having tackled the three distinguished production situations separately in the previous weeks, we now come back to complete the diagram reflecting the 'principles of production ecology'. Hopefully, it means more to you now and you can use it in analysing the impact of genetics, environment and management on crop yields, as will be discussed in this synopsis.
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Instructors

Ken Giller
Faculty
Wageningen University

​Harrie Lovenstein
Centre for Sustainable Development and Food Security
Wageningen University

Gerrie van de Ven
Plant Production Systems Group
Wageningen University & Research

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Content Designer

Wageningen University
Wageningen University
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Platform

Edx

Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California, Berkeley, are just some of the schools that you have at your fingertips with EdX. Through massive open online courses (MOOCs) from the world's best universities, you can develop your knowledge in literature, math, history, food and nutrition, and more. These online classes are taught by highly-regarded experts in the field. If you take a class on computer science through Harvard, you may be taught by David J. Malan, a senior lecturer on computer science at Harvard University for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. But there's not just one professor - you have access to the entire teaching staff, allowing you to receive feedback on assignments straight from the experts. Pursue a Verified Certificate to document your achievements and use your coursework for job and school applications, promotions, and more. EdX also works with top universities to conduct research, allowing them to learn more about learning. Using their findings, edX is able to provide students with the best and most effective courses, constantly enhancing the student experience.

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