There is no denying all of the good that farming and agriculture does for people around the world. Modern farming in the US has led this country to great prosperity, putting food on our plates at an affordable price while we pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Of course, agriculture doesn’t just provide our food but fabrics, energy sources, medicine, and more.
As wonderful as modern farming is, when left unchecked, it can begin to take a toll on the land.
Though the act of a seed germinating and growing is a natural process, planting crops year after year in vast farmlands isn’t. Over time, these actions can cause strain on soil, local water supplies, and animal life. Meanwhile, the loss of natural habitat and emissions produced from farming creates further problems.
We certainly don’t want to belittle the vital role that farming plays in our lives. In fact, it’s because of farming’s importance that we need to consider sustainability and the environmental impact the industry has. When the environment is damaged and farming can’t be sustained, it’s the farmers who suffer first.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be discussing the relationship between farming and the environment. Today, we’ll be highlighting some of the concerns farming can have overtime.
Growing the same crops year over year depletes the soil of its nutrients. A lack of nutrients results in weaker crop yields. While rotating crops can help with this to a degree, the soil still grows weaker over time. Meanwhile, farm crops also leave soil more exposed to wind and rain, leading to further runoff and the erosion of precious topsoil.
As the soil becomes degraded, it’s less capable of absorbing water. This leads to more runoff and increased erosion.
Loss of Wildlife Habitat and Deforestation
Farmland is typically established where wildlife would otherwise reside. The advent of fence row to fence row planting further reduced habitat once found between farm fields. Deforestation is arguably a larger issue in farming outside of the US, but it still can happen here and further eliminates habitat while reducing carbon sequestration.
The loss of wildlife habitat has numerous negative effects. It has driven once prominent species to fractions of their former population. Many of these species, such as ducks and pheasants, are vital to the hunting industry. Wildlife also perform important functions such as eating pests and insects that are known to damage crops.
Pollinators also suffer from this loss of habitat. Considering bee pollination is worth $15 billion to the US farming industry, this is a serious issue.
Contamination of Water
When soil is damaged and water runoff occurs, that soil typically ends up in local water supplies. Farmers often combat damaged soil with synthetic fertilizers and other chemicals to increase crop yields. These activities contribute to the pollution of water supplies, which can further harm wildlife and even pose a risk to human populations.
It can result in other conditions as well, such as hypoxia. This phenomenon is currently the source of a serious problem in the Gulf of Mexico, and the main source is believed to be farming around the Mississippi drainage basin.
Pollution and Carbon Emissions
Beyond water pollution, agriculture is also responsible for 21% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. While the gas-powered machinery used in farming and land preparation are a large source of this, they’re not the only contributors. Many of the chemicals used in farming including herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers introduce additional carbon, nitrates, sulphates, and other pollutants into the world.
Tilling and harvesting also releases carbon stored in the plants and soil.
The Repercussions of Environmental Harm
Next week, we’ll be discussing how a damaged and changing environment is negatively impacting the farming industry and creating unpredictable challenges for farmers across the world. After that, we’ll highlight how the establishment of native CRP seed can help offset these problems and restore balance.