What is industrial farming?
Industrial farming started in the early 1900s and is our current way of farming that includes overproduction of plants, crops, and animals using large-scale machinery and other methods to be profit-efficient. There are many characteristics of industrial farming that allow it to focus on quantity, a few of them being the ones we’ll focus on in this article, such as monoculture, artificial fertilizers, pesticides, factory farming, and globalization.
Monoculture is when farmers plant the same crop over several acres of land over multiple years. Monoculture is seen to be efficient because it reduces the cost for farmers when it comes to harvesting crops, but there are also many consequences. Planting the same crop repeatedly in the same area depletes the soil of its nutrients while also destroying the ecosystem and biodiversity of the soil and directly impacting the nutrient density of our crops. Not only does it destroy the soil, but planting the same crop can also increase the chance of spreading pathogens, which can easily spread across the field and lead to harvest failure.
Fertilizers are used to replenish the nutrients in soil after planting, sort of like food for the soil. While the use of fertilizers is for a good reason, the use of artificial fertilizers is known to impact human health, as it gets into our water systems from runoff resulting in billions of dollars spent to clean our drinking water. Also, artificial fertilizers are heavily used when practising monoculture due to the soil needing to be replenished after being depleted, which minimizes the concern for the soil because farmers can easily replace its nutrients. Artificial fertilizers also contribute to the greenhouse gases produced in factories, which can be avoided if we opt for organic alternatives.
Instead of artificial fertilizers, organic fertilizers and compost can be used to replenish the nutrients in soil and crops. These alternatives are richer in nutrients and don’t come from chemicals as artificial fertilizers do. Also, using organic alternatives helps the soil fend against pathogens, keeps the soil moist, and has less impact on the environment because it can be made by natural materials like animals, fruits and vegetables, eggshells, manure, and more.
Pesticides are products used to eliminate or deter living things that are considered pests, such as weeds, insects, mould, mice, and more. While pesticides do encourage the growth of crops by protecting them, they also have adverse side effects on human health. Since pesticides are used directly on crops, trace amounts have been shown to get into our bodies and may be harmful. Pesticides are considered one of the main causes of self-poisoning related deaths and can build up in our soil and food chain. The production of pesticides also contributes to greenhouse gases produced in factories.
While pesticides can be considered useful, allowing crops to build their tolerance naturally to pests is considered a healthier option. Farmers can also practise crop rotation, plant species that naturally deter pests, or build barriers surrounding their crops. There are many other ways to protect crops without using chemicals that have negative effects on the environment and our health.
Animal agriculture is when animals are raised and bred for consumption, whether it’s meat, eggs, milk, etc. Unfortunately, most animal agriculture happens through factory farms where animals are put in enclosed spaces such as cages and indoor spaces with no windows, are stripped from their mothers at birth, and are killed or have their edible products collected in a distressing way. Not only is the treatment of animals inhumane, but it also increases greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and water pollution.
So, how can we help decrease the need for animal agriculture? Many people choose to become vegan or vegetarian for ethical reasons and it is a great way to decrease the need for society’s animal usage, but this isn’t ideal for everyone. Partially decreasing your animal intake by switching to a plant-based milk alternative or encouraging friends and family to try Meatless Mondays is a great step in the right direction. Also, putting your money towards free-range animal products largely supports these smaller-scale farms, and reduces the need for factory farms. Not only are these options more ethical, but they also help the environment.
Globalization is when goods are sold across countries around the world. While globalization gives us access to a wide variety of foods, it negatively affects our environment. The modes of transportation needed to deliver these foods increase greenhouse gas emissions, adding to the climate crisis. Transportation also escalates the destruction of habitats by increasing the need for roads and the risk of oil spills from over-sea transport. All of these factors, including increased greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, oil spills, and climate change decrease the biodiversity of plants and animals.
Opting for local, in-season options is one of the ways you can help decrease the need for a global food supply chain. Shopping at a farmer’s market diminishes the need for large-scale transportation and helps support local farmers putting time and effort into growing their crops for their surrounding communities. Also, remember to shop for foods that are actually in season; that way, you know it’s most likely not coming from overseas. Check out this guide for a list of in-season food in Ontario!
While industrial farming doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, the way individuals shop and eat makes a difference. Small steps like swapping a meat-based meal for a plant-based meal or choosing certain produce over another influences our society’s farming practices in some way. By educating ourselves and others, we can make a big difference in supporting local farmers, animals, and the environment.