The developing means of agriculture is the reason humans can live in the world today. It is a necessary means of survival without which there would be famine all over the world. For thousands of years, agriculture was a natural process that did not harm the land it was done on. Farmers were able to pass down their land for many generations, and it would still be fertile as ever.
However, modern agricultural practices have started the process of agricultural pollution. This process causes the degradation of the ecosystem, land and environment due to the modern by-products of agriculture. Agricultural pollution is a process where biotic and abiotic by-products of agricultural practices result in contamination or degradation of the environment and surrounding ecosystems. This contamination is actually injurious to all living organisms that depend on the food on cultivation.
No single cause can be attributed to the widespread agricultural pollution we face today. Agriculture is a complex activity in which the growth of crops and livestock has to be balanced perfectly. Consequently, the process of agricultural pollution stems from the many stages its growth goes through.
Causes of Agricultural Pollution
- Pesticides and Fertilizers: The earliest source of pollution has been pesticides and fertilizers; this helped farmers to deal with the local pests that have existed for hundreds of years along with the new invasive species. And so, they are laden with chemicals that are not found in nature and which once sprayed, do not disappear completely; some of it mixes with the water and seeps into the ground, while the rest is absorbed by the plant. As a result, the local streams that are supplied water from the ground become contaminated, in addition to the animals which eat these crops and plants.
- Contaminated Water: Contaminated water used for irrigation is one further source of pollution. Most of the water used comes from groundwater reservoirs, canals and through rains. A lot of it is clean and pure, but the rest are polluted with organic compounds and heavy metals. This happens due to the disposal of industrial and agricultural wastes in the local bodies of water. As a result, the crops are exposed to water which has small amounts of mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium dissolved in it.
- Soil Erosion and Sedimentation: Further problems are caused by soil erosion and sedimentation. It is only the topmost layer of soil that can support agricultural practices and due to poor and inefficient agricultural practices, the soil is left open to erosion which leads to declining fertility each year. The eroded soil becomes deposited somewhere around rivers, streams, ditches and surrounding fields, resulting to sedimentation. This process of agricultural pollution prevents the natural movement of water, aquatic animals and nutrients to other fertile areas.
- Organic Contaminants: Manures and biosolids frequently contain nutrients, including nitrogen, carbon and phosphorus. Because they are industrially produced, they may also have within them contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs). These products have been found in human and animal bodies and are believed to have negative health impacts on wildlife, animals and humans. It becomes more complicated to manage the process of agricultural pollution with such organic contaminants.
- Livestock Management: Farms specializing in rearing cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry are established under cramped conditions where animals are fed unnatural diets and sent to slaughterhouses on a regular basis, resulting in the process of agricultural pollution by way of emissions. On the other hand, if the animals are fed natural diets, which can be supplemented by the waste left over from the crops, this would result in the animal’s contribution to keeping the farm healthy as well.
- Excess Nutrients: The manure and fertilizers usually contain excess chemical nutrients, especially phosphorus and nitrogen, causing nutrient pollution from agricultural sources. Excess nutrients can tragically affect the survival of aquatic life. When these chemical nutrients are washed into the water system, they alter the marine and freshwater nutrient cycles which results to the alteration of the species composition of respective ecosystems.
Effects of Agricultural Pollution
Health-related problems may occur as chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides make their way into groundwater ending up in drinking water, which contributes to blue baby syndrome (a condition leading to death in infants). Oil, degreasing agents, metals and toxins from farm equipment also cause health problems when they come in contact with drinking water.
Fertilizers, manure, water and ammonia turn into nitrate and phosphates, and when washed into nearby water bodies, the production of algae which reduces the amount of water gets enhanced, leading to the death of many aquatic animals. Bacteria and other parasites from animal wastes can get into drinking water, and this poses serious health hazards for various marine life, animals and humans.
Eutrophication is the dense growth of plant life and algae on the water surface, causing high incidences of algal blooms. This happens when excess fertilizers, pesticides, nitrogen, phosphorus and other chemical nutrients get washed into nearby surface water by erosion. Eutrophication extensively depletes the oxygen dissolved in water which leads to the killing of fish and other aquatic biotas. It is also linked to paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans.
Agricultural pollution also leads to decrease in crop yields, soil pollution and depletion of soil fertility, air pollution, biodiversity loss and water pollution. The excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides combined with other agrochemicals controls invasive pests, weeds and diseases and in return produces large crop yields. However, the positive effects of these substances last for a certain time and loses the optimal characteristics to produce larger crops, leading to agricultural pollution; often with the potential to contaminate water, air plants and animals, as well as to kill soil microorganisms and beneficial insects, thus leading to alteration in the natural ecosystem on the long run.
Solutions to Agricultural Pollution
It has to be said that keeping agricultural pollution in check is much harder than it seems. For the farm to become clean, levels of water, soil and industrial pollution have to be kept in check by the following ways:
- Farmers often unknowingly cause harm to the environmental system. They should be taught about agricultural pollution and how excessive use of chemical-based products can adversely impact the whole ecosystem negatively. The farmers must know the right quantity of pesticides and fertilizers that are necessary for each crop, use cover crops to prevent bare ground from erosion after harvest, plant grasses and trees as fences along the edges of the field as buffer, reduce tillage and manure treatment process which aims at ameliorating the adverse impact of manure on the environmental system.
- A change in agricultural practices will bring about desirable solutions. Many farms are moving back to traditional manure and organic means of keeping pest population in check. But for the process of agricultural pollution to be fully confined, there has to be a complete shift in the way agriculture is practiced.
In conclusion, agricultural pollution causes heavy economic losses, and cleaning up contaminated water is costly. Fish and shellfish industries are losing money to contaminated water bodies. Safe drinking water and clean water habitat are the rights of every living organism. Let’s be more responsible in our agricultural practices in order to preserve the earth. It is the only home we have got.