It's Time to Downsize - Why Farm Industrialization is Hurting Our Planet

In recent years, industries have sprung up all over the US in places one might not associate with factory-like conditions. Industrialized farms have taken over the food market, and along with them the damage to our already struggling planet has been increasing. I’m sure that most of you pay (at least a little) attention to what you eat, but chances are, you are not going to the lengths of checking and researching the exact sources of your food. This makes complete sense. Your time is precious, and doing such in-depth research about something that might not seem all that pertinent to you might just be a waste of time. However, I think that educating yourself on the topic of farm industrialization and its effect on our planet is important, whether or not you choose to change anything about your food choices.

Let’s start by defining “farm industrialization”. My definition of the term is as follows: a society turning from more local, smaller farms towards large, quantity-over-quality businesses in order to provide for an ever-growing population. Industrialized farms raise crops and cattle alike in factory-like conditions. Harvests are done by machines, crops and animals are genetically modified, pesticides are used liberally, and little interaction with nature is observed. Now, I am not saying that there are no benefits to mass production of this sort. Obviously, the more food we produce, the more we can eat and sell, boosting our economy and helping solve hunger issues. 

However, these massive farms can cause environmental damage by polluting both water supplies and the earth with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Some of the older pesticides can remain in the soil for years, infecting future crops and sneaking into our digestive systems. Furthermore, just like bacteria can become resistant to certain medications, some bugs can become resistant to pesticides. So, essentially, we are breeding superbugs that can go ahead and destroy our crops again in a few generations. This superbug problem persists on the animal front as well. Antibiotics are increasingly being used on livestock to prevent diseases within the animals and us as well. However, a similar effect is achieved. Bacteria are slowly building immunity to these antibiotics, and we are getting a new species of bacteria that cannot be battled with current medicine. 

Another problem posed by superfarms is the amount of water such establishments utilize and waste on a daily basis. Farms account for up to 80% of the water usage in the USA, but unnecessarily so. Plants do not need quite as many resources as they are given. As a result, a lot of the water ends up evaporating or getting absorbed deep into the soil before it is truly used by the crops. However, measures are currently being taken to reduce this waste while maximizing the amount of crops produced yearly to feed our growing population.

Along with crops, we have supersized animal farms. These pose some humanitarian issues with regard to the treatment of animals in the facilities alongside the environmental damage this maltreatment can cause. Let’s start with the very natural aspect of feeding cattle on a mass scale. In earlier eras, cattle would simply be released into a field to feed as they are meant to; on grass. However, modern day farmers tend to prefer to use corn because it causes more rapid weight gain in the animals. Sadly, that same corn causes a whole host of issues within the cows. Cows, naturally, are not made to digest corn. As a result, half of the proteins that are essential to the gut health of a cow get eliminated, malnourishing the animal. This indigestion also results in excess amounts of gas in the cow, which can cause serious health consequences and can even be fatal. The excess gas within the cows leads to (pardon my French) lots of farting, and, more importantly, burping. Cow burps release huge amounts of methane gas, which is even worse for our atmosphere than CO2. Animal gas production accounts for 14.5% of all the gaseous damage done to our atmosphere. Feeding them a healthier diet can help solve some of our environmental issues, as well as help promote a more humane diet for the animals.

Having explained the issues above, I would like to wrap up with a small disclaimer. I am not, by any means, saying that farms should not be expanded to support our growing population. I completely understand that it is necessary to have large-scale farming to provide affordable produce and meat to consumers. However, there are flaws within the system that could potentially be fixed. I researched a little in order to try and find an agricultural system that could hold some of the solutions to our problems, and here is what I found. As it turns out, Holland has hacked the system of agriculture, making it the world’s second largest exporter of produce, right after the USA. However, the country itself is only about the size of Maryland. So, what’s their secret? I linked the article I found a couple of sentences above, and it has a good amount of other resources within it if you would like to do more research. Holland is living proof that we can solve many of the environmentally unfriendly aspects of our farming systems. This will help not only our planet, but also populations that live in perpetual drought, the workers that might be handling the pesticides, and the average consumer that is running a risk of contracting an unknown disease. Large farms are necessary, we just need to improve a few aspects.

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