Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable farming is a way to meet the needs of people today while ensuring the ability for future generations to meet their needs as well. Air, water, land and animal resources are being negatively affected by current industrial, large-scale farming practices. Sustainable farming offers a way for large scale operations to change their practices to preserve these essential natural resources for the future. In order for a farm to be considered sustainable it must have the following characteristics: conservation and preservation, biodiversity, animal welfare, economically viable, and socially just.

Conservation and preservation are the two facets of sustainable agriculture that are most often thought of. These practices involve taking natural resources from the land and then putting them back in. A large component of this is keeping animal manure in the area it was produced and making sure that it does not pollute the area. In large production farms, manure is mixed with water and held in lagoons. From these lagoons, the manure water is transported and sprayed onto cropland. By spreading manure onto fields, farmers are also spreading heavy metals such as zinc, copper, chromium, arsenic, cadmium, and lead. Concentrations of these heavy metals will cause farmland to become unproductive, the land will be put out of use and wasted. Further, manure often leaks from the holding lagoons and carries antibiotics, heavy metals and growth hormones with it into nearby waterways. This pollution causes an imbalance in local streams and ponds and can cause loss of biodiversity in these precious areas.

While manure is a large component of pollution, methane gas and hydrogen sulfide are excreted in large amounts from farms. These gases have been attributed to increasing the effects of global warming. Other chemical misuse includes overuse of pesticides, which leak into waterways, and the excessive use of water. Large scale farms are depleting the fossil waters in many western states which has led to less water for households. Finally, cropland is being depleted by farms only producing one type of soil. When the nutrients are depleted from the soil, more chemicals are added to the soil to replenish them. Instead of constantly depleting the soil and artificially replenishing it, rotating crops to add nutrients through natural processes can be completed. Sustainable farming supports farming that removes all of the negative effects listed above and instead works to farm in a way that is harmonious with the environment.

It is important to maintain biodiversity in sustainable farming because it preserves resources for future generations. By maintaining biodiversity natural processes such as pest control by natural predators, pollination, decomposition, and strong genetic diversity will survive. There has been a large decrease in the numbers of domestic breeds and crop diversity because the genetic diversity has also decreased. A example of this is the potato famine that occurred during the 1840s. Potatoes of only one variety were farmed and when a fungus hit, all of the crop was destroyed. By interbreeding animals to increase the amount of meat on their bodies, their genetic code is becoming less and less diverse. This decrease in diversity is causing weaker species and causing many breeds to die out. If we continue to interbreed domestic animals, it is possible that future generations will have less and less animals to work with. It is a dangerous practice. Pollution from large scale farms is also dangerous and causing a decrease in biodiversity for future generations. Sustainable farming works to maintain genetic diversity by having different breeds on farms and works to lower pollution.

The final three components of sustainable farming include being kind treatment of animals, economically viable, and socially just. Kind treatment of animals supports keeping animals in good living conditions, transporting them safely, and humane slaughtering. Economics of large farms compared to large farms in supporting local communities is very different. Large farms make much more money than small farms but only 20% of their money is put back into local communities while large farms put 95% in. Further, large farms have a large output per worker while small farms have a higher output of crops per acre. The final facet of sustainable farming is social justice. Those farms that are sustainable have competitive salaries for their employees and provide them with good working and living conditions. Sustainable farming is a practice that can be, and should be, attained by both small and large farms in order to provide the ability for the needs of future generations to be met.

1 comment:

  1. This is a nice summary of practices that increase agricultural sustainability. Two factors that cause farmers to go for more conventional agriculture practices are cost of growing and yield obtained (those these are improving). Many consumers are willing to pay more for sustainably grown products, but others are unable to do so. Agricultural subsidies go largely into conventional agriculture, such as soy and corn for processed products. Should we subsidize sustainable practices?