Industrialized Farming: 15 Great Reasons for Change

Industrialized farming, also known as conventional farming, is the practice of growing crops, rearing livestock, and producing food cheaply and intensively. Today’s farming systems have made it possible to triplicate food production since 1960.

Industrial agriculture has been considered the solution to affordable food for most of the world’s population for many years. But in the modern world, questions have been raised about the sustainability of industrialized farming.

industrialized farming

A Little Bit Of History

Over the centuries, the world has experienced several revolutions. In the agricultural sector, the first revolution dates to the neolithic when the men started to domesticate animals and cultivate crops, forages, and other plants, allowing them to stop hunting and establish settlements. Since then, agricultural systems have developed slowly until Britain’s farming revolution in the 18th century.

Old Plough - History of farming

Photo By Bernd

The Benefit of Industrialized Farming

Industrial agriculture extensively uses technologies to maximize crop yields and increase livestock rearing and animal production. It uses synthetic fertilizers, chemicals, and OMG to strengthen crops and accommodate the feeding requirements of a constantly growing world population.

In animal farming, antibiotics and vaccines have reduced diseases and improved animal health. Developments in shipping networks and technology have made the long-distance distribution of agricultural produce feasible.

The Drawback of Industrialized Farming

There are now concerns about the sustainability of modern industrial agriculture.

The use of large amounts of fertilizers containing nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, extensive application of herbicides, pesticides, and other chemical products, and increased use of fossil fuels, which cause pollution, are making us rethink how we produce food.

1. It Can Be Expensive

There are direct and indirect costs tied to intensive farming. Direct costs are mostly related to energy and land usage. But there are also indirect costs due to the intervention needed to tackle the polluting consequence of this conventional farming system. The indirect health costs and effects of a diet often based on ultra-processed and unhealthy food must also be mentioned.

2. Intensive Farming livestock Can Increase the Risk of Spreading Diseases from Animals to Humans (Called Zoonosis)

The risk of high stress and poor hygiene is high in intensive livestock-rearing systems. Stress factors can be critical in lowering the immune system, making animals more vulnerable to disease and susceptible to spreading pathogens.

Slurry, manure, and other animal by-products can be critical in spreading pathogens, and animal waste management is costly and complex.

3. Antimicrobial Resistance

Abuse and misuse of antibiotics can potentially lead to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance is the risk of some antibiotics becoming ineffective against some bacteria.

Intensive livestock farming can pose a significant risk for developing and spreading antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Intensive farming practices often involve routinely using antibiotics and other antimicrobials to prevent disease.

When these resistant bacteria spread to humans, they can cause infections that are difficult or impossible to treat with commonly used antibiotics, leading to increased morbidity and mortality.

4. Water and Soil Pollution

Agricultural water pollution is a global problem that stems from using fertilizers, pesticides, and other agricultural inputs like manure and some feeding operations. These pollutants can enter surface and groundwater systems, where they can cause environmental damage. In addition to impacting water resources, agricultural water pollution poses a health hazard to humans who drink or come into contact with contaminated water.

5. Air Pollution

Air pollution from agriculture has been a growing problem in the United States. In 2013, agriculture was estimated to be responsible for 28% of all US air pollution. Modern farming is a significant source of emissions from vehicles, factories, and other sources. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified three types of air pollution from agriculture: ground-level ozone, particulate matter, and methane.

6. Human Health Is Reduced Due to Processed Food Consumption

Most of the food we produce today is cheap and very high in calories, and processed and ultra-processed foods make up most of our meals. Although high calories allow for fighting world hunger, it also creates a diet that is high risk for diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and other diseases preventable with a correct diet.

7. Loss Of Biodiversity

Intensive farming has a significant impact on biodiversity. Many plant and animal species are lost from farmland each year as farmers implement new technologies and crops that can damage or displace native plants. The loss of biodiversity can severely affect the environment and human health. The loss of critical species can lead to a decline in ecosystem services that humans rely on, such as food production or clean air.

8. Loss Of Soil Quality

Agricultural practices can have significant impacts on soil quality. Soil loss from farm activities, such as erosion and compaction, can reduce the available nutrients and water resources for plants and other organisms. Additionally, pesticides and other chemicals used in agriculture can contaminate soil and water supplies, contributing to environmental degradation.

9. Reduce Quality of Life for People in Agriculture

In the modern world, especially in developed countries, there is a constant trend where small farms disappear and are replaced with bigger, more intensive units. People losing their farms can suffer mental health consequences and loss of income from their businesses.

Farm workers’ health conditions and nearby local communities around industrial farms are constantly monitored for potential health hazards. Increased acute and chronic lung disease, musculoskeletal injuries, and infections transmitted from animals to humans are potential threats that must not be underestimated.

10. Animal Health and Welfare

There is vast debate about intensive animal farming and its impact on animal welfare. The welfare of animals reared for food production is under constant scrutiny; legislation and regulation are enforced to ensure high standards.

However, it is vital to constantly monitor animal welfare, identify stress factors, and implement management strategies to reduce stress and improve animals’ quality of life.

11. Loss of Water

 Agriculture has a significant water footprint, using over half of all freshwater worldwide. The main culprits are irrigation, which requires more than 80% of all water used in agriculture, and livestock production, which accounts for almost two-thirds of water use.

12. Land Erosion

Industrial Agriculture is the leading cause of land erosion in the United States. Over half of all land loss in the country is from agriculture, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). This erosion can have severe consequences for both people and nature. It can isolate communities, deprive ecosystems of vital nutrients, and damage valuable infrastructure. The USDA has developed strategies to reduce the impact of agriculture on land, but more needs to be done.

13. Wildlife and Aquatic Species Loss

Wildlife loss from agriculture is a significant problem that is worldwide in extent and impacts many different species. Agricultural practices, such as deforestation and the use of pesticides, can cause the death of wildlife, including birds, mammals, and amphibians. The damage can be caused by direct contact with chemicals or indirect effects such as climate change. There are many ways to prevent wildlife loss from agricultural practices and to help restore affected areas.

14. Deforestation

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The world has lost about 420 million hectares of forest since 1990. 

The Amazon rainforest has been depleted over the past 50 years; these losses are primarily accountable to soy plantations. Palm oil production and livestock grazing also contribute to deforestation.

15. Climate Change

Modern intensive farming relies on fossil fuels for tillage, transportation, production of fertilizers, and pesticides—the highly mechanized equipment used as agricultural inputs and the generation of electricity used on farms also require fossil fuels.

Livestock rearing is at a tipping point for the production of greenhouse gases; the farming world can not rely on perpetual livestock growth to allow food production; otherwise, we will be unable to control methane in the atmosphere.

The Future of Modern Farming

Modern farming has significantly impacted the human quality of life, increased health, and reduce world hunger. It constantly creates jobs, sustains the economy, and is essential to land conservation, healthy biodiversity, and preserving wildlife.

However, the constantly growing human population puts the farming system under much pressure. The agriculture industry must sustainably provide healthy and safe food while preserving natural resources and reducing the environmental impact of its activities.

A sustainable agricultural system is an incredibly challenging task. Technology, as usual, is a great tool we can use to shift food production. There are already ideas and strategies we can put in place. Sustainable farming systems – like regenerative farming- and futuristic farming systems – like vertical farming – are only 2 of many ideas already under the microscope of scientists, researchers, farmers, and civil society. 

It requires cooperation, empathy, scientific research, and education, but it is still possible to change how we farm if there is the will from politicians, industries, and civil society. 

RenzoVet
RenzoVet

A Veterinarian who grew up in the countryside of a small Italian town and moved to live and work in the United Kingdom. I have spent most of my professional time trying to improve the quality of life of animals and the environmental and economic sustainability of farm enterprises.

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