Our planet is currently feeding around 7.7 billion people. Compared to just 100 years ago, that’s an increase of almost 6 billion people, which is putting a huge strain on our planet’s ability to feed us using the same methods that were used at that time. How are we keeping up with this rapid and continuous growth? In many cases, using conventional agriculture. By definition, conventional agriculture uses typically accepted means to produce food, fiber and animal feed. It does an admirable job of meeting our basic needs for energy, fats and protein, but it can sometimes be lacking in more specific nutritional needs as well as malpractices for the environment. Here’s a look at the history, purpose and alternatives to conventional agricultural production.
For millenia, agriculture consisted of relatively land-friendly practices that paired the farmer with the land that was being worked. However, a series of inventions and innovations in the 1800s lead us down the road to what could be considered conventional agriculture. Instead of simply producing food that would sustain people in the local area, food was being produced to be shipped hundreds to thousands of miles away to support a booming urban population.
However, not all of these innovations were good for our planet. The Dust Bowl during the Great Depression was caused by conventional farming practices that caused serious problems with soil erosion, as one example. The advent of chemical pesticides not only allowed easy control of weeds and insects, but also caused serious problems with birds and animals in nature, as pointed out in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Fortunately, conventional agriculture today has turned away from many of those harmful practices to take a more ecological approach to feeding the world.
Today, conventional agriculture has moved away from practices that are blatantly bad for the earth to ones that allow farmers to keep their farms to pass on to future generations, but there are still issues that sometimes arise. Crop genetics are opening up new avenues, from those that allow additional vitamin A in rice from inserted daffodil genes to those that allow crops to be sprayed with herbicides without perishing, reducing competition from weeds. However, there are still a number of factors that need to be considered with the future of conventional agriculture.
Conventional agriculture often focuses more on mass production of food over sustainable production of food. With billions of people on our planet to feed, it’s more important than ever that agriculture focus on not only feeding these people today, but a growing population far into the future. That means that many of the practices being used today need to be replaced with more sustainable options that protect our farmland’s natural wealth for future generations, while being able to provide for the growing population.
The growing demand for food in our world is directly related to the growing population our world is sustaining. That means that we need to grow even more food on less land, as more land is being used for housing and other purposes. To keep up with this growth, alternative means to grow food need to take place outside of conventional agriculture. This includes a wide range of options for growing food that are being developed, including urban farming and hydroponics in both commercial and residential levels.
When large fields are used for producing crops and the cost of electricity is low, many farmers who live in more arid farming regions use irrigation to grow crops year-round, rather than using more traditional fallow systems that allow the land to absorb water when it’s not being actively farmed. This has lead to significant drops in aquifer levels, or natural areas where groundwater is stored underground. In turn, this has lead many farmers to have to continue investing in a failing water infrastructure or lose their farms. It is important to spread the word about hydroponics and drip irrigation systems as they are the most optimal when it comes to smart water use in growing food.
Conventional agriculture covers a huge amount of ground with large machines that allow a single or small number of farmers to manage it. This means that large amounts of inputs, such as pesticides, fertilizers and similar compounds are applied to the soil. When it rains, it’s fairly common for these compounds to run off into waterways, causing serious problems for wildlife. Rain can also cause soil particles to detach from the soil surface and wash away, causing soil loss for the farm and impacting the soil’s ability to hold nutrients for the plants it grows. To be sustainable it is important to not over apply inputs and respect what the plant demands, this however becomes a challenge when the farmer is trying to maximize yields for a growing population which leads to overfertilizing.
Urban farming is becoming much more popular as today’s population wants to be more connected to their food supply. From container gardening for the farmer’s market in shipping containers to hydroponically-grown produce, urban gardening is allowing people to reduce their food miles and gain a better appreciation and personal relationship with the farmer who is providing them with food.
Hydroponics, once the brain child of science fiction writers, has become the mainstay of many urban farms and those who are looking for a better way to micromanage the water supply and plant nutrition. In this system, plants are grown in media that is regularly flooded with water that contains a nutritional slurry that allows the plants to grow in virtually any controlled environment. This allows a wide range of older structures to be reused for food production rather than sit idle and empty.
Organic agriculture only focuses on inputs used with production. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are specifically prohibited, which are an area of concern for many consumers, as are a wide range of chemical inputs that are often used in conventional agriculture. However, not all organic practices are sustainable, meaning that if the purpose is to cater for a growing population, organic standards might just fall short.
Conventional agriculture provides us with a wide range of options to meet the bulk needs of a world population approaching 8 billion people, but it’s not the only option available. When you choose to raise some of your own food, you’re able to have better control over your health and nutrition while helping your community at the same time. Fitleaf is here as your partner to help you find the answers you need for your home garden.
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