What is “Agricultural Science”?

YOKOTA, Atsushi, Ph.D.
Dean of Research Faculty of Agriculture,
Graduate School of Agriculture,
and School of Agriculture.

I would like to reconsider the significance of “agricultural science.” While discussing agricultural science, everyone is reminded of the academic field related to agriculture such as farming and the farming industry. Undoubtedly, the science of agriculture addresses the cultivation of the earth and the “production of food” that is necessary for humans to survive. The original Latin word for earth is “humus”; however, in English “humus” refers to the organic portion of soil organic matter. This is where the word “human” (Latin and English) originated from. In other words, it was believed that human beings and earth were one. In this sense, the science of agriculture is an academic field having the closest relation to human beings. This leads to the question “what is the ultimate goal being sought after by the science of agriculture?” It is to “establish sustainable food production technologies that can support the Earth’s population” that is expected to reach nine billion in the near future. This has been an unresolved issue since the 1970s when the oil crisis forced people to reconsider industrial agriculture, which requires many inputs such as fossil fuels, fertilizers, and pesticides, and it is expected to aggravate in the future.

Thus, to achieve this goal, it is necessary to make comprehensive efforts to address the various issues related to food production. In other words, it is not sufficient to consider agricultural science in the small and direct sense where it only handles “food production”; it must also be considered as including all the various factors that make up food production within our limited range of resources on the earth. For example, it is essential to develop fertilizers and agricultural chemicals that work in harmony with the environment and to develop new breeds of crops that thrive and can be harvested even in poor environments. Furthermore, it is also necessary that there are technologies and techniques that produce safe food from the raw materials of animal husbandry and farming, that we clarify the relation between food and health, and that we have technologies or techniques to use biomass for establishing a recycling society. It is important to preserve the environment surrounding arable land, ensuring that it remains healthy. Forests preserve the soil and water and also protect from the loss of farmland stock-farming sites due to landslides. Additionally, they prevent river and ocean pollution that is caused by the soil erosion of earth and sand. Technologies that accurately measure the environment, including the conditions for raising crops will become essential for managing the environments found in agriculture and forest sites. Additionally, the droughts, floods, and warming that have been caused by climate change and have become more and more considerable in recent years will significantly impact the yield of crops. This change on a global scale must be mitigated. Moreover, social science research that addresses food distribution and security guarantees will also be necessary. While thinking along these lines, it is realized that while “agricultural science” has always involved “people,” it is an academic field that handles an extremely wide range of topics related to ‘food production.” I hope to obtain the understanding of everyone related to this, concerning the big picture and goal of agricultural science in the broad sense.

The Ideals of the School of Agriculture

Currently, the Hokkaido University’s School of Agriculture comprises three organizations: the School of Agriculture for undergraduate students, the Graduate School of Agriculture for graduate students, and the Research Faculty of Agriculture that is an organization for the teaching faculty. We have set out “making contributions to sustainable human prosperity through the establishment of infrastructure for survival based on the biosphere” as the ideal for which the School of Agriculture, the Graduate School of Agriculture, and the Research Faculty of Agriculture are striving. This refers to the same notion as the ultimate goal sought by agricultural science of “establishing sustainable food production technologies that can support the population of the earth.” We have established the following four priority research areas to put these ideals into practice. The first such area is basic biological science represented by biotechnology. This is the foundation that will provide the basis to support all of the other fields. The next three research areas–“food production,” the “environment” that supports it, and the “manufacturing, distribution, and use of food products”–are classifications on the basis of this fundamental field. All of these research areas are not independent from one another but rather are closely related because of their storylines. The issues related to the sustainable production of food will be solved for the first time by combining all these areas. As teaching staff, we are always keeping this in mind; and in addition to having a broad perspective while working on educational research, we must also work toward making the students recognize this. In particular, it is important that the students and staff are all fully aware of each of our own research groups and the research topics being worked on. Furthermore, it is necessary to understand into which of the emphasized research fields they can be categorized. Doing this produces a sense of unity for the entire organization and individuals do not lose sight of their own course and can develop more creative research.

Sapporo Agricultural College was a University.

The Hokkaido University School of Agriculture originated from the Sapporo Agricultural College founded in 1876; it has developed over the course of 140 years. Currently the school of agriculture comprises the following seven departments: the Department of Agrobiology and Bioresources, the Department of Applied Biosciences, the Department of Bioscience and Chemistry, the Department of Forest Science, the Department of Animal Science, the Department of Bioresource and Environmental Engineering, and the Department of Agricultural Economics. The origins of these departments that are indispensable for solving the various issues related to sustainable food production can already be seen in the course subjects that were established by Dr. William S. Clark at Sapporo Agricultural College. Additionally, approximately 50 research laboratories that currently exist in the Graduate School of Agriculture were established sequentially over a long period together with each of the departments. These research laboratories can be evenly divided into the four priority research areas mentioned above. Considering this perspective, the School of Agriculture is an organization that includes a good balance of all the academic fields necessary for agricultural science and Dr. Clark’s foresight seems praiseworthy. Additionally, Hokkaido University was formed on the basis of the foundation of various academic fields that include the humanities that were derived from these course subjects. The word root for the term “university” means “world” or “whole.” Thus, Sapporo College of Agriculture that is the origin of the School of Agriculture and Hokkaido University appears as the source for all of the educational research necessary to solve the issues faced in agricultural science today. This is worthy of the term “university.” We are proud of being an educational research organization that came about through the course of history and are working together as a single unit to solve the problems faced by agricultural science. We sincerely welcome everyone who shares this sense of purpose and wants to be part of the School of Agriculture, the Graduate School of Agriculture, or the Research Faculty of Agriculture regardless of their nationality and background.