Making Commercial Farming Good for the Environment
By Jane Marsh
The farming sector is one of the most important industries in the world. Farming takes up nearly 1.2 billion acres of land in the U.S. alone — so it shouldn’t be surprising that agriculture also has a profound impact on the environment.
Agriculture is responsible for 11.2% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Additionally, studies show that agriculture causes over 90% of tropical deforestation worldwide. This is having a destabilizing effect on ecosystems — plant species are being destroyed and displaced animals have nowhere to go.
What are Sustainable Farming Practices?
Although agriculture poses several significant problems, humans still need food to survive. For example, grain is one of the most sought-after crops in the U.S. Creating new farms is the only way to increase food production. Therefore, the solution lies in improving or creating new farming practices.
Sustainable agriculture is the practice of using new methods and technologies to reduce the harmful effects of farming on the environment. These include finding ways to restore resources such as trees, plants, and animals used to create farmland.
New technologies can also cut down the amount of energy used on farms — which will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions they produce. Here are a few examples.
Agroforestry is the practice of using trees in combination with agricultural practices — mainly crop and livestock farming. This method helps mitigate the effects of deforestation and is an excellent way to increase food production and security.
Using agroforestry practices allows farms to grow two different crops simultaneously by planting regular crops alongside trees that bear foods like fruits and nuts. That means farms produce a wider variety of seasonal crops. When one crop type is unavailable after the seasons change, they can still sell the other.
Planting trees around crops has the added benefit of providing shade and nutrients. Fruits that are not harvested from the trees fall and are absorbed back into the soil, creating more nutritious ground for future crops.
As for livestock, having trees in their grazing area can produce shade to rest under. Fallen fruits and nuts vary livestock's diet and provide greater nutrition for the grass they graze on. If necessary, trees on the property can become sources of timber instead of cutting down the trees in the forest.
Traditional crop farming is often called "monoculture farming” because farms only grow one kind of crop. While it was once effective, as the population of the Earth increases, small farms are struggling to find enough resources, such as land, to keep up with demand.
In contrast, polyculture farming is the practice of producing multiple types of crops on one farm. While growing multiple crops would be more efficient than growing only one kind of crop, the issue isn't that clear-cut.
Depending on where you live, your farmland might be able to sustain only one type of crop. It might also mean purchasing more land depending on the crop you plan to grow. In addition, growing multiple crops usually means taking on an additional workload.
However, if your farmland meets the right conditions and you have plenty of space, polyculture practices can be a great way to increase crop yields while positively affecting the environment. Having diversity in your crops means you can produce year-round — while also decreasing soil degradation on the land. This leads to more fertile soil and increased biodiversity in the area.
Hydroponics is a new technology that is radically changing the farming industry. Also known as vertical farming, hydroponic farming uses a complex water system instead of farmland to grow certain types of crops.
Rather than using soil to sustain plants, these water systems deliver water and nutrients directly to the roots. Conventional farming methods use 70% of the world's water supply, and much of that water escapes into the soil or evaporates. Hydroponic farming gives you more control over how the water is used by recycling unused water back into the system.
Hydroponic farming is not only sustainable but also versatile. The name "vertical farming" comes from how hydroponic systems typically work. Plants can be placed in columns instead of rows, allowing farms to use smaller indoor spaces. That means a hydroponic farm doesn’t need farmland at all — plants can be grown inside warehouses and other buildings. An indoor environment also means more control over external factors like weather.
While hydroponic farming has many advantages, there are some limitations. The most important factor is that only certain types of crops can be grown this way. Hydroponics also relies on a constant supply of power, which can lead to a high start-up and maintenance cost.
Commercial Farming can be Good for the Environment
As the world becomes more aware of environmental issues, the agricultural sector has to move away from traditional farming practices. While the need for food will always exist, using new technologies and methods can increase the efficiency of farms while reducing their negative impact on the environment.
Article by Jane Marsh
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of