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Our current agricultural system is deeply flawed with inefficiency and unsustainable practices. Sustainable agriculture is a journey rather than a destination; It aims to maintain ecosystems, support biodiversity and meet the challenges of our fragile world. This essay examines three critical problems—soil loss, water depletion, and food supply—and possible solutions. As of now, a completely sustainable agricultural system does not exist, but the future shows great potential for improvement.
Soil is the key to life on land; Proper soil is the most important factor for crop growth. Therefore, soil erosion is a major obstacle for farmers worldwide. Soil should be treated as a non-renewable resource; According to the USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, it takes at least 100 years for one inch of soil to form. Soil rendered useless in our lifetime will not be replaced for many, many generations. Erosion removes topsoil and surface soil, which often have the highest biological activity and the highest soil organic matter content. This results in loss of nutrients and often creates a less favorable environment for plant growth. Plants require greater root depth for root growth, protection from weathering and erosion, and for water, air, and nutrients. Once nutrients cannot support plant growth on site, soil can accumulate in the water and cause many environmental problems such as algal blooms and lake eutrophication.
This problem is not new and many methods exist to prevent further erosion. The Soil Erosion Act of 1935, the first national soil conservation program, was a response to the greatest problem of soil erosion, the dust bowl. He established the Soil Conservation Service, now USDA-NRCS, or Natural Resources Conservation Service, to help farmers and ranchers apply conservation techniques to their land. These methods include contour plowing, strip-cropping, terracing, no-till, shelterbelt, crop rotation, and leguminous cover crops or residues.
Due to unsustainable irrigation, grazing and cultivation practices, surface/rainwater is insufficient to meet our agricultural needs. A major water resource problem arose in the 1950s, with the introduction of electric pumps allowing the use of groundwater for irrigation. Groundwater systems before development are in long-term equilibrium; The water removed is balanced by water addition and the water content in the storage remains relatively constant.
Although dependence on irrigation for agriculture is unlikely to go away, smart methods of irrigation and water conservation exist. Soil moisture testers can be used to irrigate fields only when the soil is dry, reducing waterlogging and water wastage. Timing, and morning/evening irrigation methods can be used to reduce water evaporation and minimize water use. These practices can reduce withdrawals from aquifers, as well as selecting better crops (growing less grain, wasting less water), reassessing which crops need irrigation (maize and other intensive crops are not used for human consumption, but are used for animals. food and ethanol), and removing subsidies for water-intensive crops (higher costs for higher water use). Also these crops are grown in areas that are not naturally fertile for their growth. For example, all irrigated corn acres in the US are in four states: Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, and Colorado. These four states have different climates and soil types. A shift to crop growth in areas where it can better meet its needs naturally would greatly reduce the irrigation system.
Flood irrigation is one of the most popular methods of crop irrigation. Water is pumped or brought to the field and allowed to run over the land among the crops. This method is simple and inexpensive, and is widely used by communities in less developed parts of the world as well as in the US, however, it is neither effective nor sustainable; Crops do not get half of the water used.
Water wastage can be reduced by leveling the fields; Flood irrigation uses gravity to carry water, so the water goes down the slope and does not cover the field evenly. Flattening the field will allow water to flow evenly throughout the field. It can also be reduced by tidal flooding. This is a less traditional form of flood irrigation; Normally, water is simply released into the fields, but wave flooding releases water at predetermined intervals, effectively reducing unwanted runoff. Finally, the capture and reuse of runoff will increase efficiency. A large amount of flood-irrigation water is wasted as it runs off the edge and back of the field. Runoff water can be captured in ponds and pumped back to fields, where it is reused for the next cycle of irrigation.
Trickle irrigation is known as the most efficient method of irrigation. A drop of water falls near the root zone of the plant at a drip rate. This requires extensive tubing to ensure that all plants in the garden are reached by irrigation, but this reduces water wastage. The system can be programmed to run on a timer, operated manually, or programmed to respond to current conditions. If the system is installed correctly, you can reduce water loss through evaporation and runoff as well as reduce weed growth. Drip irrigation also reduces soil nutrient loss, reduces runoff into aquifers and local waterways, and reduces water loss through evaporation. Soil damage due to spraying and other forms of irrigation is also reduced.
These problems are exacerbated by our current farming practices; Many crops are grown in unfavorable regions and require artificial fertilizers, irrigation and pesticides. GMO crops are attempts to grow more efficient and more environmentally sound crops. These genetically modified crops were contested in class debates and favored by a minority of students. While the current system presents many problems, its future potential cannot be overlooked. My fellow classmates ruled against the technology for many reasons, including psychological and aesthetic preference for organic/natural foods, lack of knowledge about the toxic effects of GMO foods. He criticized the government’s failure to exercise sufficient regulatory oversight over agribusinesses for profit without worrying about potential risks.
Tolerance to extreme drought, cold and salinity is perhaps the most important change for the future of agriculture. As the world’s population grows and the need for new farmland increases, crops will have to be planted in areas that were previously unsuitable for cultivation. Creating plants that can survive longer periods of cold, drought or high salinity in soil and groundwater will help people grow crops in previously inhospitable places. For example, GM salmon, loaded with genes from other fish species, grow faster than wild salmon and can survive in cold water, allowing the salmon to thrive in new environments. However, it is currently not in the market. Another off-the-market modification is the antifreeze gene. An unexpected frost can kill sensitive plants and destroy an entire harvest. An antifreeze gene has been cloned from cold-water fish into plants such as tobacco and potato. With this antifreeze gene, these plants are able to withstand cold temperatures that would normally kill unmodified plants. This technology will allow these plants to grow in cooler temperatures in which they would not normally germinate.
Traditionally, American agriculture has been marked by inefficiency and waste. Soils have been extensively eroded and fields barren, aquifers depleted and water lost or evaporated, and food production is under pressure to meet the needs of a growing global population. Fortunately, the situation is not as dire as it seems; Many conservation techniques exist to help rejuvenate the soil, new technologies will help conserve our limited water resources, and human ingenuity is being applied to food production. Clearly, we are on the way to a more modern, sustainable and efficient agricultural system.
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