Thousands of years ago many people grew small amounts of crops and raised small numbers of livestock to feed their families. As we have moved from small villages into larger towns and cities, farming has become modernised to meet the demands of a larger and more urban lifestyle.
Intensive farming uses machines, fertilisers, man-power and high yield crops to maximise the amount of food produced. Farmers growing arable crops often specialise in growing only one crop to maximise their profits. This is called monoculture. It can quickly reduce key nutrients in the soil and lowers biodiversity.
Hedgerows have been removed from many fields to make them bigger and easier to tend to by big machines. This also reduces biodiversity. Crops are often sown, treated and harvested by machines which create pollution, and fertilisers are added to fields in larger amounts which can cause eutrophication.
Intensive farming can also mean keeping livestock in smaller pens with regulated temperatures. This reduces the energy they need for movement and temperature regulation and so maximises their size and yield. Some animals are fed high protein foods to increase their growth. They are often fed antibiotics in their food to prevent diseases. Many scientists think this is leading to antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
Advantages and disadvantages of intensive farming practices:
|Higher yields||Costly additives needed|
|More efficient use of food||Risk of antibiotic resistance|
|Quality control easier||Considered unethical by some people|
Many people object to intensive farming because it reduces biodiversity and increases pollution. More recently some farms have become organic to address this. Organic farmers do not use machines to the same extent as intensive farming. They do not apply pesticides to their crops and use natural fertilisers such as compost and manure. They rotate their crops to avoid monoculture.
This image shows some of the changes in crops planted that happen during crop rotation to increase yield, promote biodiversity and help keep soils heathy.
Because of this organic food is often more expensive than intensively farmed food, and many people are willing to pay more for the perceived benefits.