How Industrial Agriculture Affects Soil Health and Measures to be Considered

Posted by on Jun 8, 2020 in Blog, environmental industry, sustainable business, sustainable environment | 0 comments

How Industrial Agriculture Affects Soil Health and Measures to be Considered

Soil forms the earth’s surface and consists of various components such as organic materials, minerals, water, and air depending on where it’s located.  The composition of the soil is never static as it’s influenced by the weather, the organisms that constitute it, the crops are grown on it or the animals grazed on its surface. The soil just like water and air is vulnerable to pollution and can be greatly damaged by toxic industrial farming practices.

Soil health can also be improved by engaging in sustainable farming practices such as the application of compost and other sustainable techniques. The health of the soil is highly influenced as well, by the different types of organisms that live in the soil. From bacteria, earthworms and fungi, all that contributes to the health of the soil by performing diverse tasks such as breaking down organic materials, aeration of the soil, creation of pockets in the soil for water and making nutrients available to the plants.

As much as the soil is a natural resource it’s quite vulnerable to degradation and industrial agriculture has affected soil health in diverse ways. Chemical farming has led to soil degradation, erosion, and the destruction of the living organisms that need healthy soil to survive.

“I used to farm in a way that I’d wake up in the morning trying to decide ‘what am I going to kill today’- weeds, insects. I was going to kill something. Now I wake up and decide how to get more life on the farm.” Gabe Brown

Industrial farming is yield driven and that has pushed farmers to use toxic chemicals that affect soil health. The focus has been towards ensuring that as much yield is attained as possible. Various reports have indicated that this practice of industrial farming started after World War II and has been in practice since but it’s not irreparable as there are alternative farming methods that have been proven to improve soil health and bring balance on the farm.

Effect of Industrial Agriculture on Farmers

Industrial farming has left farmers with a practice where they do the bulk of the work and end up with very low costs for their products. Fertilizer companies end up benefiting at the expense of the farmers who are left with no choice but to invest in the fertilizers if the farms are to realize substantial yield. 

With high farm input prices and low prices for farm products, it, therefore, means that farmers hardly get enough to sustain the practice. It gets worse in case of any predicament such as the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. Livestock farmers with huge yields have been forced to kill the animals as they are unable to sustain them in terms of generating their feeds.

Why Farmers should Transition to Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative farming is the ideal alternative to industrial farming as it’s focused on restoring soil health through the use of ecosystem-centered techniques. Some of the practices used in regenerative farming include the addition of compost to the soil and engaging in crop rotation practices alongside the incorporation of animal grazing on the farms. 

Regenerative farming contrasts the commercial or industrial farming model that’s strictly focused on the use of chemicals to improve yields on the farm. Industrial farming strips the soil of nutrients and ends up into a negative loop where more and more chemicals are used on the farm to keep the yields up. Some of the techniques used in regenerative farming include;

  • Addition of compost to the soil
  • Crop rotation
  • Limited to zero use of pesticides alongside use of sustainable pest management techniques.
  • Addition of animals on the farm for manure to enable crop rotation.

As a way of addressing soil health challenges, there are several case studies that have proven the success farmers can achieve by transitioning to regenerative farming. With regenerative farming, it means that there will be limited usage of fertilizers and that makes it possible for farmers to save huge amounts on chemical purchases. 

Benefits of regenerative agriculture

  • Reduced usage of fertilizers leads to increased profitability. The use of compost and other sustainable organic materials help with eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers. Since a huge amount of the farming budget goes into purchasing farm inputs such as fertilizers, farmers can be assured of realizing massive savings on costs.
  • Improved retention of water. Soils that have high levels of organic matter get to retain water for a longer period of time. 
  • Reduced need for pesticides – crops that are grown in biologically diverse soil that has plenty of microbes are less likely to attract pests. Such soil is also well equipped to fight pests.

Conclusion:

We are mostly dependent on soil for our food, and it can be considered as the foundation for most types of agriculture. However, modern industrial agriculture may be negatively impacting our soil and natural balances of minerals and ecology. We are, therefore, rethinking the way we do agriculture, and so, the regenerative methods of agriculture are finding importance among sustainable farmers.

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