Environmental Impact

The Environmental Impact of Agricultural Practices


Agriculture is the base of human civilization and has been the major source of food as well as the basic needs for survival and progress. But modernity has brought with it many negative consequences that harm the environment and even the existence of the planet’s ecosystems. Knowing these impacts would help in coming up with better strategies in the production of foods that are more sustainable. The realities of how Agricultural practices impact the environment: This piece focuses on the causes and possible ways of reducing the impacts that agriculture has on the environment.

Soil Degradation

Agriculture has left its imprint on the ground, one of the most significant of which is soil degradation. Due to one crop growing in the same field for many seasons, overgrazing by livestock, and the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to the crops, the health of the soil declines.

  1. Erosion

The reduction of soil quality is a significant issue in regions that receive a lot of use in farming. The removal of topsoil deprives the soil of its fertility because topsoil is the layer of soil with highest fertility and organic matter due to the accumulated waste from plant and animal life, and exposes the soil to desertification.

The FAO further estimated that three to five tons of soil is lost per hectare per year due to erosion that affects agricultural productivity.

  1. Loss of Soil Biodiversity

These chemicals containing synthetic fertilizers and pesticides can be toxic to the earthworms and microbes which play a vital role in building the structure of the soil and providing fertility.

Some of these practices include monoculture farming, which involves growing of a single crop type, the practice leads to alteration of the natural soil balance and structure making plants more susceptible to diseases and pests.

Water Usage and Pollution

Farmers use water in their production, and they pollute water resources in the process of food production. Effective water management in agriculture is going to help in minimizing the impacts of farming on the environment.

  1. Irrigation and Water Depletion

Irrigation helps in the production of crops because water is a key factor in the growth of crops, especially in dry areas, but it poses a challenge of using up the freshwater. This has an adverse effect on ground water and reduces the flow of water in rivers and streams as a result of over-extraction of water for agriculture.

According to the FAO, the agriculture sector uses a staggering 70% of freshwater, a situation that has created a very huge pressure on water.

  1. Nutrient Runoff and Eutrophication

Fertilizers are utilized in the cause of nutrient runoff whereby nitrogen and phosphorus in excess flow down into water sources. This can lead to eutrophication, with instances of algal blooms and hypoxic conditions that are dangerous to the lives of the aquatic organisms.

For instance, every year, a huge area of the Gulf of Mexico becomes a so-called ‘dead zone’ primarily because of the excessive nutrient load from agricultural fields in the Mississippi river.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Farm practices are one of the prominent causes of emissions of greenhouse gasses and therefore, climate change. Of all sectors, livestock production is the most concerning and has the potential to alter the environment significantly.

  1. Methane Emissions

Enteric fermentation that occurs in the rumen, the first chamber of the stomach in ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and buffaloes results in the production of methane. Methane is an effective greenhouse gas that has 25 times the global warming potential of that of carbon dioxide over a 100-year time span.

Assuming the statistics of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), livestock contributes approximately 14%. The pollution of water sources The emission of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere constitutes 5% of the total.

  1. Carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are other greenhouse gasses that play significant roles in global warming and climate change.

Among the principal causes of carbon dioxide emission are the burning of fossil fuels in agricultural tractors, clearing of forests for farming and the decay of organic matter.

Another powerful greenhouse gas is nitrous oxide that is emitted from the soils in response to the nitrogen-based fertilizers applications. Another is hydrofluorocarbons and it has a global warming potential 298 times the amount of carbon dioxide.

Pesticide and Herbicide Impact

Such chemical pesticides and herbicides are widely used in agriculture and may harm the environment and human beings.

  1. Biodiversity Loss

Pesticides also affect other organisms in the ecosystem, the so-called non-target species. They pose danger to bees, which are important pollinators. This can result in loss of biodiversity hence affecting the ecosystem services.

For instance, there is the case of neonicotinoid pesticides that have been associated with bee mortality and hence the future of crops that rely on pollinators is uncertain.

  1. Soil and Water Contamination

Some of the chemical control methods include pesticides and herbicides that can remain in the environment and pollute the soil and water sources. It can also accumulate in the food chain causing harm to wildlife and human beings.

Research has revealed that pesticides have been detected in water sources that are located many miles away from the farmland and therefore, there is contamination of the water bodies and other aquatic life forms.

Deforestation and Habitat Destruction

Irrigation is most associated with expansion of the agricultural land area that requires clearing of forests and other biomes that results in loss of species and disruption of the ecosystem.

  1. Forest Clearing for Agriculture

Habitat destruction in the tropical region is attributed to deforestation for crops and cattle ranching, especially soybeans, palm oil. This not only has an impact on the species, but also releases a great amount of carbon accumulated in trees, influencing Climate Change.

The extensive deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, known by many as the ‘lungs of the Earth,’ for the purpose of cultivation has significantly affected global carbon and climate.

  1. Wetland Drainage

Wetlands are usually converted to farmland and in the process, the habitats of many species are destroyed and important functions such as water regulation and filtration are interfered with.

Wetland loss also implies that the capability of these habitats to store carbon is decreased, thus increasing GreenHouse Gas emissions.

Sustainable Agriculture Practices

There is the need to apply sustainable practices in the conduct of agricultural activities to reduce the effects on the environment. These practices are aimed at meeting the food production needs while at the same time maintaining the natural resources.

  1. Conservation Agriculture

Conservation agriculture is a method which entails minimal soil tillage, retaining soil cover by using crop residues and crop rotation. These methods assist in increasing fertility of the soil, minimizing soil erosion, and the promotion of the species diversity.

These practices include no-till farming and cover cropping which can help to eliminate the negative impact of farming on the environment but at the same time increase the yield.

  1. Agroforestry

Agroforestry is the simultaneous growing of trees and shrubs with crops and/or livestock on the same plot of land which offers several advantages like increased soil nutrient retention, carbon storage and biodiversity.

Techniques such as alley cropping and silvopasture involve the growth of trees alongside crops or animal production, making the agricultural environment less vulnerable.

  1. Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

IPM, instead, aims at the integration of both the cultural, biological, and mechanical strategies that minimize the use of chemical control. This process also aids in preserving beneficial organisms and reducing the pollution of the environment.

Pest management can be controlled through crop rotation, inter cropping, and by using natural enemies of pests with minimal damage to the environment.


The sector that has the largest influence on the environment is agriculture, and its influence can be measured through the changes in the quality of the soil, water, emissions of greenhouse gasses, and richness of species and ecosystems. To address these challenges, a concerted push in the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices that will meet food requirements and at the same time maintain the natural resource base will be needed. By integrating innovation and sustainability into farming practices, the environmental costs of farming in the future can be reduced, making this world a better place for future generations.

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