The word 'sustainable' has become very popular these days and is used to describe many different things. In this lesson we will explore how sustainability is associated with agriculture and the benefits and issues of this type of farming.
What Is Sustainable Agriculture?
If you had to choose, which would you prefer to eat: food that is grown more naturally or food that is enhanced by spraying it with pesticides or applying chemical fertilizers? Most people would prefer the natural food that is free of chemicals and artificial enhancements. Unfortunately, the majority of food we consume is produced using industrialized agriculture, which is a type of agriculture where large quantities of crops and livestock are produced through industrial techniques for the purpose of sale. This type of agriculture relies heavily on a variety of chemicals and artificial enhancements, such as pesticides, fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms. This type of agriculture also uses a large amount of fossil fuels and large machines to manage the farm land. Although industrialized agriculture has made it possible to produce large quantities of food, due to the negative aspects of this technique, there has been a shift towards sustainable agriculture.
Sustainable agriculture is a type of agriculture that focuses on producing long-term crops and livestock while having minimal effects on the environment. This type of agriculture tries to find a good balance between the need for food production and the preservation of the ecological system within the environment. In addition to producing food, there are several overall goals associated with sustainable agriculture, including conserving water, reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and promoting biodiversity in crops grown and the ecosystem. Sustainable agriculture also focuses on maintaining economic stability of farms and helping farmers improve their techniques and quality of life.
There are many farming strategies that are used that help make agriculture more sustainable. Some of the most common techniques include growing plants that can create their own nutrients to reduce the use of fertilizers and rotating crops in fields, which minimizes pesticide use because the crops are changing frequently. Another common technique is mixing crops, which reduces the risk of a disease destroying a whole crop and decreases the need for pesticides and herbicides. Sustainable farmers also utilize water management systems, such as drip irrigation, that waste less water.
Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture
There are many benefits of sustainable agriculture, and overall, they can be divided into human health benefits and environmental benefits. In terms of human health, crops grown through sustainable agriculture are better for people. Due to the lack of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, people are not being exposed to or consuming synthetic materials. This limits the risk of people becoming ill from exposure to these chemicals. In addition, the crops produced through sustainable agriculture can also be more nutritious because the overall crops are healthier and more natural.
Sustainable agriculture has also had positive impacts of the environment. One major benefit to the environment is that sustainable agriculture uses 30% less energy per unit of crop yield in comparison to industrialized agriculture. This reduced reliance on fossil fuels results in the release of less chemicals and pollution into the environment. Sustainable agriculture also benefits the environment by maintaining soil quality, reducing soil degradation and erosion, and saving water. In addition to these benefits, sustainable agriculture also increases biodiversity of the area by providing a variety of organisms with healthy and natural environments to live in.
Issues Associated with Sustainable Agriculture
Although there are many benefits to sustainable agriculture, there are also some issues associated with it. One of the main concerns is that sustainable agriculture does not produce as much food as industrialized agriculture. A study conducted over two decades in Switzerland showed that crop yield was 20% lower on farms that practiced sustainable agriculture in relation to farms that utilized industrialized methods. The lower productions rates of sustainable agriculture raise concerns that this method will not be able to produce enough food to feed the growing population.
Another issue associated with sustainable agriculture is the high cost to consumers. Although it is cheaper for farmers to produce crops sustainably because they are spending less money on pesticides, fertilizers, and fuels for large machines, sustainably produced crops are sold to consumers at higher prices. The higher prices are due to the increase in human labor to produce the crops and the increased nutritional value of the produce. As a result of the higher prices, many people cannot afford crops produced from sustainable agriculture and instead purchase cheaper foods made through industrialized methods.
Now, let's review sustainable agriculture and the benefits and issues associated with this type of farming. Sustainable agriculture is a type of agriculture that focuses on producing long-term crops and livestock while having minimal effects on the environment. The main goals of this type of agriculture are to produce food, conserve water, reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides, promote biodiversity, and maintain a stable economy and lifestyle for farmers.
Sustainable agriculture has had many benefits, including benefits to human health, such as increased nutrition and reduced exposure to chemicals. There have also been benefits to the environment, including less energy use, water conservation, maintained soil quality, increased biodiversity, and a reduction in soil degradation and erosion. Although this type of agriculture has been growing in popularity, there are some issues associated with it, including the fact that this method does not produce as much food as industrialized agriculture and that crops produced through sustainable agriculture are often more expensive to the consumer.
Although sustainable agriculture does have some issues and concerns associated with it, this type of agriculture is the key to the future. As the human population grows and more people need to be fed, sustainable agriculture lays the groundwork for how to grow food while maintaining a healthy farming environment that can be used for years to come. Scientists need to develop methods for growing crops in a way that is sustainable but also increases yield to handle the growing population. In addition, farmers need to be taught about sustainable agriculture and given incentives to change their farming methods for the good of the entire human population.
Upon completion of this lesson, students should be able to:
- Compare and contrast industrialized agriculture and sustainable agriculture
- Describe some of the strategies employed by sustainable farmers
- Explain the benefits of sustainable agriculture in regard to both human health and the environment
- Summarize some of the drawbacks to sustainable agriculture