6 Ways Conventional Agriculture Damages the Environment

Human-caused climate change is a considerable threat to the planet, imposing various disastrous effects across global communities. While energy production and transportation are some of the biggest factors to blame, conventional agriculture contributes significantly to the problem.

As well as warming up the earth, traditional farming practices have a lot to answer for. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look by exploring 6 ways conventional farming damages our planet.

Keep reading to find out more!

What is Conventional Farming?

You might be wondering what we mean when we talk about ‘conventional farming’, so let’s dive a little deeper into this surprisingly modern mode of production.

Conventional farming practices are primarily chemical-dependent, demanding the use of artificial or toxic substances to produce the vast amount of . For example, while regenerative farms opt for manure or compost to fertilize soil, traditional farms utilize chemical fertilizers instead. Similarly, conventional farmers use pesticide sprays to solve the problem rather than using traps or mating disruptions to eliminate pests.

Agriculture accounts for 11% of human-derived climate change.

World Resources Institute

While some argue that conventional farming is the only way to maintain enough production to feed the world, a growing body of research is proving that conventional farming is, in fact, what may threaten food availability in the future. Aside from the integrity of the food system, conventional agriculture is extremely taxing on the micro- and macro- environment.

Let’s find out why.

1. Water Contamination

At present, agriculture accounts for 70% of water withdrawals worldwide, often leaving communities without drinking water to survive. As well as wasting or overusing our supplies, one of the biggest concerns surrounding conventional farming is the disastrous contamination it causes.

Water contamination happens as a result of a variety of factors, including:

  • Animal waste lagoons rupture and leak out, contaminating surface and groundwater with excessive nitrates or pharmaceutical residues.

  • Chemical fertilizers run off into surface and groundwater, causing algal blooms and nitrate contamination.

These practices not only infect our human water supply – they’re also harmful to aquatic ecosystems too. Nitrates and algal blooms cause a reduced oxygen and light supply, damaging or killing wildlife in natural settings.

2. Inevitable Disease

While the environmental effects are detrimental to the planet and our fight against climate change, conventional farming also contributes to another life-threatening problem. Thanks to the unsanitary conditions and lack of diversification in the industry, conventional agriculture is often to blame for harmful diseases.

Some diseases that have been created or made worse by farming include:

  • Ecoli

  • MRSA

  • Salmonella

  • Mad Cow Disease

3. Vapour Drift

Vapour drift, also known as volatile drift, is one of the lesser-known impacts of conventional farming, but it’s certainly not one we should ignore. While it might seem like a complex, almost mystical concept, vapour drift is a lot more simple than it sounds.

Vapour drift is the conversion of an agricultural chemical from a liquid or a solid into a gas that undergoes a process of movement. These vapours are carried away by the wind and end up in places where they can wreak havoc on the environment.

The chemicals in question are usually pesticides or herbicides, used to eliminate unwanted weeds or pests from a harvest. The problem is, if these toxic chemicals end up on edible produce or in our fresh water supply, we’re inevitably going to consume them.

4. Soil Carbon Loss

As you can probably imagine, soil plays a vital role in farming, but it also has a significant role in reducing greenhouse gases. The top metre of the world’s soil contains three times as much carbon as the entire atmosphere, absorbing carbon in the same way that our forests and oceans do.

133 billion tonnes of carbon have been released from the soil into the atmosphere since the birth of conventional agriculture

However, human activity is preventing soil from playing its crucial part in the carbon cycle. Thanks to conventional farming, carbon can be released from the soil faster than it is replaced, inevitably contributing to global warming.

Since 133bn tonnes of carbon may have been lost from the top two metres of global soil since agriculture began, it’s clearly an important issue we need to note.

5. Chemical Resistance

As much as the big farming businesses might think otherwise, pesticides are not intelligent. They do a perfectly good job of killing off unwanted vermin, but they also kill the natural predators that usually hunt down those pests. In a classic battle of survival of the fittest, the weaker pests are more easily killed, inevitably breeding new strains of more robust, pesticide-resistant insects.

Over 400 insect and mite pests and more than 70 fungal pathogens have become resistant to at least one pesticide. That’s a major, human-made change to our earth’s ecosystems.

6. Methane Emissions

Both animal and produce-led agriculture has a major impact on global warming, but are you aware of how this happens? Let’s take a closer look.

In the same way fossil fuels cause carbon emissions to be released into the atmosphere, farming produces masses upon masses of potent methane gas. Over a 20 year period, methane is 80 times more effective in warming the earth than carbon dioxide, so it’s definitely a problem people should be aware of.

Methane is primarily produced due to livestock farming, made even worse by conventional farms that breed, farm and slaughter at an alarmingly high rate. Aside from the miserable lives and often traumatic deaths these animals face, their being kept in close quarters on feedlots like the one picture above is extremely detrimental to the environment.

At FoodCycler, we are always looking to help modern farmers make the brave but necessary switch to regenerative or sustainable farming practices. Our commercial products have helped farmers manage their waste and fertilize their fields without chemicals - with the push of a button.

Reach out to a food waste diversion specialist today!