Farming has become increasingly industrialized in response to the burgeoning world population’s growing need for food. However, agricultural processes contribute greatly to climate change and deforestation, and they threaten the water supply. Large factory-type farms, in particular, create major problems for the environment.
Over the past 100 years, farming techniques have changed significantly, decimating many once-abundant natural resources. The use of pesticides and fertilizers has dramatically risen with the advent of technology and factory farming. Not only are some of these substances harmful to humans, they have also significantly damaged the environment.
This article will examine some of the most common environmental problems linked to agricultural processes. It will also describe what consumers and farmers can do to prevent further environmental harm.
Water Supply and Quality
The agricultural sector consumes approximately 70 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater, and farming practices like inadequate irrigation, improper field application methods, and the planting of water-intensive crops lead to water waste and contamination of water sources.
Not only does excessive irrigation use an inordinate amount of natural resources, it also contaminates the soil by changing its natural salinity and forcing pollutants and sediment into bodies of water. When this occurs, wildlife and plants must cope with continual disruptions of their ecosystem.
Climate change is a serious environmental problem that is exacerbated by careless agricultural practices. Factory farming is responsible for about 37 percent of methane gas emissions, which puts the environment at risk. Additionally, fossil fuels used for the transportation of farming equipment, pesticides, and other components necessary to run a functioning farm present problems. Fossil fuels used in farming account for about 90 million tons of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere annually. In addition, factory farms release other potentially life-threatening compounds, like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, into the environment.
Agricultural processes, including manure management, burning of forestry, livestock waste, and fertilizer use, account for around 14 percent of total greenhouse emissions. While many people believe that raising livestock produces the most methane gas, a serious contributor to climate change, rice production actually generates more.
In the United States, people have decimated roughly 260 million acres of forest to create more land for farming. This trend is also seen throughout the world. For example, farmers in Brazil have destroyed approximately 3 million acres of rain forest just to feed livestock, and they are also clearing land to grow more soybeans and other high-volume crops. Some scientists estimate that deforestation increases the rate of climate change by almost 50 percent as a result of the high amount of carbon released into the air and the fact that the remaining trees cannot adequately handle this environmental load.
Loss of Biodiversity
In addition to climate change and water contamination, industrialized agriculture also affects biodiversity in our food sources because large farms tend to concentrate on growing large amounts of specific crops. As a result, people typically only consume a fraction of the nearly 23,000 edible plant varieties available.
Between the years of 1804 and 1904, there were about 7,098 apple varieties in the United States. However, about 86 percent of these varieties are no longer available. Thus, if the crops farmers produce today are ever affected by pests or disease, entire crop varieties could be lost.
Currently, the US government does not regulate many agricultural conservation processes. However, this does not mean that farmers cannot take it upon themselves to begin using more sustainable practices. Many farmers receive subsidies from the government, so it is only right that they consider the health of citizens as they collect these funds. To make lasting change in the environment, farmers must be aware of how they can modify their practices without affecting their yields.
As far as consumers are concerned, they need to encourage farmers to do more in order to help the environment, curb pollution, and conserve natural resources. One way to do this is to support local organic farmers who use environmentally conscious practices. People can also start their own gardens, reduce food waste, and implement composting systems. In addition, people can support environmental groups to spread the word about factory farming and educate others on how to further the cause.