The Case Against Conventional Agriculture

For the last few decades there has been increasing concern globally over the consequences of conventional agricultural systems, techniques and principles. In particular, scientists and consumers are concerned about the environmental decline and degradation caused by large-scale mono-cropping, reliance on external inputs and synthetic fertilisers, cheap oil dependency, food safety, genetically modified crops and animals, loss of functionality in rural community, reduced farm profits, and the takeover of family farms by corporate interests.

Clearing of land for broadscale agriculture including cropping, horticulture and livestock production has caused major impacts on biological and ecological diversity and caused land degradation over vast areas. In Australia, dryland salinity, rising water tables, and soil erosion and dust storms as a result of clearing and agricultural practices affect vast areas of the country, rendering the land marginal at best for continued food production. The annual cost of lost production from agricultural induced dryland salinity is Australia in 1990 was estimated to be $130 million with a further $100 million each year in damaged infrastructure. Conventional agricultural techniques are responsible for water pollution from fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, and wetland draining and the overuse of water continues to cause a loss of biological and ecological diversity. 

More recently attention has been given to the impacts on air pollution from conventional agriculture, including from greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Health concerns regarding conventional agricultural practices range include the toxicity of chemicals used in production, genetic engineering of food substances, lack of appropriate labeling and ‘food scares’. 

It is clear that our present agricultural practices are negatively impacting on the environment and resources.  Additionally, conventional agricultural practices are contributing to deteriorating health, whilst over the last 40 years conventional farmers have witnessed a continued decline in profit margins. With our variable and low rainfalls, weathered and depleted soils, dispersed geography and small consumer base, Australia’s agriculture sector is challenged to find more sustainable agricultural practices. Many conventional farmers and agro-businesses are looking toward Quality Assurance (QA) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs to secure credentials in food markets that are increasingly requiring the agricultural sector to improve their “green” credentials.