Thursday, February 28, 2008

How Will Our Children Eat?

The topic of this paper is principles of sustainable agriculture. The paper says that the world has big environment problems and that these can be improved by sustainable agriculture. There are three reasons for this argument. First, sustainable agriculture conserves the soil. Second, its farming principles improve water quality. Finally, sustainable farming techniques conserve energy.
We all live on the earth. Therefore, all human beings have responsibility for the earth. To be sure, one important thing is that we should take care of the earth very carefully like a child. We have been given good environment so we have to return this for our children. Thus society should maintain clean air, clean water, good soil and good food for our offspring. Unfortunately since people have developed industrial life and modern lifestyle for better life, the earth has been damaged. This damage has many examples. There are air pollution problems, water pollution problems, soil depletion problems and overpopulation problems. Eventually these things could cause greater problems. These problems could be disease, hunger and social collapse because of lack of food and energy. These problems would affect everyone. Sustainable agriculture offers some solutions to these problems. Because of these solutions, sustainable agriculture is very important for all people. Sustainable agriculture will not solve all problems of environment. Unquestionably, it can solve part of the environmental problems. Sustainable agriculture involves many details and complex things to fix. However, there are three main simple factors that build sustainable agriculture. Sustainable agriculture farmers must be careful about the soil, water quality and usage of energy. If society can take care of these three situations, our descendents can live good lives.
“Sustainable agriculture is one that produces abundant food without depleting the earth’s resources or polluting its environment”(Earles, 2005,p.1). Sustainable agriculture involves many principles. It has three main goals. They are “environmental health, economic profitability and social and economic equity.”(Feenstra, 1997, p.1). In “Biodiversity : Sustaining Soils and producing Food” Jacks and Whyte (1994) say that between 1950 and 1984, the world’s food production increased three times. At the same time, “Conventional 20th Century agriculture took industrial production as its model” (Earles, p. 1). Thus, “The basic idea of industrial production is to produce large amounts of product” (Earles, p. 1). Also, industrial production thinking “treats the land like a mine”(Earles, p. 2). Production is taken from the land. Nothing is returned to the land. Little thought is given to the bad results that come with the production. “This industrialized agriculture uses a lot of energy, chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides, and chemical herbicides”(Miller,1994, p.38). The result is a lot of food production. Also the result is destruction of soil, water pollution, air pollution and big dependence on energy. Principles of sustainable have solutions to these problems. Some people feel using these solutions is too expensive. Other people feel using these solutions is too difficult. In fact, sustainable farming principles are often simple to follow. They can be carried out simply and practically. They start with caring for the soil. If we care for the soil, we can prevent water pollution. At the same time we can save energy. Also we protect our food supply.
First, soil is the fundamental foundation for life (Miller, 1994, p. 33). Caring for it is the basis for sustainable agriculture. Soil is fragile. On average, the world is covered by less than three feet of soil (Paulson,2008, para. 2) and it is eroding quickly. David Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington says, "The estimate is that we are now losing about 1 percent of our topsoil every year to erosion, most of this caused by agriculture”(Paulson, 2008, Para.3). Soil is also easily damaged. Overuse of farm machinery compacts and hardens soil. Salinization ruins the land. Inorganic fertilizers and herbicides contaminate the soil by nitrates. Inorganic fertilizers are quickly used by plants. They are also quickly washed away from the ground by rain. They leave the soil without nutrition. The solution for these problems comes from sustainable farm management. Most topsoil erosion can be stopped with good farming habits. This means using perennial crops, not planting by streams, not over grazing (Earles, p.4). Soil damage can be avoided by using organic fertilizers, natural pest control (ladybugs), “minimum-tillage” methods and mulching (Earles, pp. 2-4). Avoiding erosion, and fixing soil damage let the soil recover its strength. These sustainable principles also help fix the problem of water pollution.
Second, water quality is a very important issue to sustainable agriculture. Plentiful good quality water is important because it is related to health of plants and all living creatures such as human beings, animals, birds and aquatic life. All life needs sufficient amounts of water. All life needs clean water. Bad water quality has bad health effects for all life. Not enough water also has bad effects for all life. Therefore we must be careful in our use of water. We must not overuse water. We must not pollute water. Too much irrigation depletes wells and causes salt water to form in wells. It also causes salinization of land. It also depletes rivers. This affects people, farming, aqualife and wildlife downstream. Surface run off from agriculture affects water resources. It carries contamination from fertilizers and salinization. One of the most important issues relevant to water quality is involved with salinization and contamination of ground and surface waters by pesticides, nitrates and heavy metals (Feenstra, p. 2). Nowadays people use large scaled dam or reservoirs for irrigation. Because irrigated land can produce crop productions that are two to three times greater than from rain –watering. (Miller,1994, p.34). However, irrigated water often contains dissolved salts. So it stops crop growth, reduce productivity, kills crop plants and ruins the land. Also surface runoff flows down rivers to the sea. There the chemical pollutants contaminate fish and kill algae. Algae are a big source of global oxygen. In “Red Tide and Harmful Algal Blooms”(2007) the author says that “ Phtoplankton are believed to generate as much as 80% of the world’s oxygen supply”(para.1). If we destroy ocean algae, we destroy big part of world’s oxygen supply. In order to protect water quality, sustainable agriculture uses the same solutions as for the soil problems. Organic fertilizers such as animal manure, green manure and compost can replace chemical fertilizers. This reduces need for machinery usage. According to the USDA publication, “Soil Quality Resource Concerns” (1996, p.2), less machinery use decreases the soil compaction. Therefore, looser soil is aerated. Therefore, water percolates through it easily. So soil does not erode and flow away easily. Furthermore, irrigation should match water supplies. According to the New York Times, “When fresh water is removed in large quantities, rainwater and streams cannot replenish the aquifers quickly enough, and salt water seeps in” (para. 4). Too much irrigation takes all the water from wells or from the rivers. It also causes salinization to the land. The two problems of saltwater seepage and salinization from irrigation should be minimized. Otherwise the soil is ruined for farming. Accordingly these ways for sustainable agriculture are simple and practical with regard to maintaining good environment.
Third, the sustainable principles of agriculture also focus on the energy usage. Today agriculture uses a lot of petro-chemical based energy. Heavy machinery uses a lot of energy. Most fertilizer is made from the petro-chemicals. Agriculture businesses ships food long distances. For example in Carbondale, now we have grapes from Chile, bananas from South America. All this uses lot of energy. The price of oil rises rapidly. According to Annual average domestic crude oil prices (2008), a barrel of oil cost $1.63 in 1946, $4.75 in 1973, $14.44 in 1986, and cost $11.91 in 1998. Furthermore, the Crude oil future prices-NYMEX shows it cost $100 in Dec of 2007(Wtrg Economics, 2008). High price of energy causes high agriculture prices. Over time unless we can replace oil, energy prices will go much higher. This may create a crisis for food prices. Once again, the solutions are the same as in soil and water. No till agriculture uses less machinery. This has result of using less energy. Green manure, mulch and organic fertilizers are not petro - chemical based. Finally growing and using locally produced food saves big transportation costs. For example, many fruits, vegetables and livestock are grown around Carbondale. In the past Southern Illinois had many apple, peach, strawberry, and cattle and hog farms. Still, today there are local farmers markets in Carbondale and Anna in the summer. Also still there are local butcher houses in Cobden and Dongola. We should buy and eat local products when possible. These things can be locally grown and used and sold locally in farmers markets. Then we don’t need big transportation. As energy becomes more expensive, life will change. We can either have crisis and then change or we can change before crisis comes.
Opponents say that using these solutions is unsustainable and impractical. They say that sustainable agriculture practices do not match the economy and the environment. However, these objections are not true because when people are really concerned about environmental values, they will deal with the earth seriously and carefully. Maintaining good care of soil is practical. Organic fertilizers and organic pest control like ladybugs are not expensive. Organic fertilizers such as leaves, animal manure and food wastes are usually wasted things. They do not cost a lot of money. Also ladybugs naturally produce themselves. On the other hand, chemical fertilizers and herbicides must be purchased. Therefore, if people do not use high priced fertilizers and pesticides, they can save money and keep good quality of soil and water. Furthermore, by maintaining soil by not overusing machinery such as tractors and cultivators, they reduce oil cost and prevent eroded soil due to compaction. When these strategies are combined and carried out enough, it will have good results for sustainable agriculture. Although opponents disagree with this ways now, they will soon know how practical and reasonable it is for in the long term.
In conclusion, nowadays some people are interested in sustainable agriculture. However, people’s past efforts in making abundant crops by overusing fertilizers and machinery and pesticides have resulted in big trouble between humans and environment. Rehabilitating the earth’s environment is not easy because it is now damaged. Nevertheless, caring for the earth is our responsibility because our children follow us. These ideas are practical, simple and functional way to sustain agriculture. They give our children a good future.


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