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Farming is one of the primary foundations on which this country was built.
It is a highly respected tradition, often among families that pass land from generation to generation. Flourishing farmland has withstood the test of time and has positive impacts across the board, from providing healthy crops to helping preserve open space. Beyond that, farmland also serves as an investment opportunity.
Its environmental effects are astonishing and unparalleled; many of them positive while others are still under active research.
Some effects of farming are tangible, such as successful corn fields that bring food to the tables of families across the country and around the globe, but others are just being researched now by cutting edge scientists and environmentalists.
Aside from the noble tradition of farming, the vast expanse of American agricultural farmland impacts the environment in numerous ways. Pull up a chair and let’s take a closer look at some of them.
Protecting Open Spaces
According to the USDA, there are almost 920 million acres including 2.1 million farms and ranches across the country. Unfortunately, this represents a steep decline from its heyday in the 1930s, when there were 7 million farms.
Luckily in recent decades, local, statewide and national organizations have been scrambling to enact legislation preventing designated farmland from being used for any other purpose, particularly land development. The American Farmland Trust has placed permanent restrictions protecting farmland.
Land development has undeniable impacts on the environment; among them, deforestation, contamination of water sources and a decrease in air quality.
Farmland represents sprawling fields of crops on a natural landscape. Protecting that land is paramount. Deflecting development is a very noteworthy side benefit.
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Farmland Can Benefit The Soil
Farming practices such as crop rotation, planting cover crops and the use of organic fertilizers help soil retain its rich qualities. This type of land management can help with soil erosion control and provide an ecosystem for various organisms that call the soil home.
Farmers use their land in ways that help the soil hold onto nutrients and water. Plants raised on farmland encourage the normal cycle of energy for the site.
Think of the deep, earthy soil in your own backyard garden. It is rich in minerals, retains water and supports all kinds of bugs and other crawling critters keeping the soil aerated.
Making A Home For Wildlife
Homeowners who move into new developments have been known to complain about roaming animals such as fox and deer in their backyards.
Take a look on YouTube on any given day and you can find videos of raccoons pawing through trash cans or a skunk that has lost its way.
There’s a better and safer option for these animals than crossing paths with humans. Farmland’s open fields give these creatures a safe place to live, graze and protect their young. This could lead to sustaining species left to live on land that was theirs to begin with.
When crops are rotated and some fields are left to grow wild, native flowers will drop seed and grow. This opens up a meadow sanctuary for healthy pollinators like bees and birds.
Adding Oxygen To The Atmosphere
We’ve all heard that houseplants can actually improve air quality.
On a larger scale, growing crops add oxygen to the atmosphere. But wait, there’s more!
Their photosynthesis actually removes carbon dioxide from the environment.
The more rolling fields of farmland with lush plant cover are in place, the more the crops use carbon dioxide to support growth. This is news that’s like a breath of fresh air.
Smart Farming May Aid In Water Preservation
Times are changing from the days when deep irrigation trenches and constant watering were staples for a successful crop.
New farming methods are being put in place to significantly reduce the need for this type of irrigation. These include no-tilling, dry farming and using cover crops. All of these efforts help retain rainwater and reduce surface runoff.
When the water content in the soil stays higher, less irrigation is needed during dry spells to preserve crops. Rainwater can be stored in the damp soil until the dry spell is over.
So yes, growing crops on farmland uses tons of water. But it is actually far less than the dairy and meat industries. This makes plants our most sustainable food resource.
Check out Cowspiracy on Netflix to learn more about that.
Chemicals (The Bad Side)
Mention the word “pesticides,” and most people with react with horror. Pesticides, as we know, are chemical ingredients used to control fungus or living organisms. Likewise, fertilizers are often applied to keep those crops flourishing.
Unfortunately, these chemicals don’t end up solely on plants. They usually apply these to fields from overhead or spread across the entire area. This means they can seep into every part of the land, from the soil to the water that will run off to other areas after heavy rains.
Even the wind will carry the dust to other fields, animal grazing areas or even clusters of houses. Rough estimates show that over 90% of applied pesticides end up at sites alongside the farmland and their rows of crops.
However, there is a strong movement today towards organic farming using new ingredients for fertilizing and pest control that minimizes the impact on soil and water quality. These include insecticidal soap, natural oils and certain cultivated bacteria. Even something as simple as red pepper spray can stop bugs in their tracks!
As more and more people start shopping for organic produce for their kitchen tables, these efforts will grow in leaps and bounds, decreasing this negative effect on the environment.
Natural compost is also another option for farmers to use on their land. This helps speed up the formation of topsoil, which is essential for healthy crops.
There’s a reason why our national anthem hails to “waves of amber grain.”
Farmland is at the heart of America’s history. There is simply no sustainable way to replace the production of natural plants to support life. Farmland’s impact on the environment will no doubt be studied for decades to come, but there is one certainty: Farmland is an enormous asset to the country and the world at large.
And its value will only continue to grow with the rising demand to feed the world’s explosive population.