Intensive farming (also intensive agriculture) is the practice where a lot of labor and capital are employed to maximize agricultural produce or yields. This type of farming is characterized by the intensive use of pesticides, fertilizer, and other crop production inputs.
For livestock, intensive farming involves a high investment in medication and concentrated feeding for the animal stock. Generally, this practice concentrates more on getting the most output per area using high-input strategies.
It means the amount of inputs and work required for production goes up, and this has witnessed the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, mechanical plowing, plant and animal growth hormones, medications (antibiotics and vaccines) for animals, and plant growth regulators.
For this reason, intensive farming has helped improve agricultural production. On the contrary, it has also increased pollution and other environmental concerns. In substantiating the issues surrounding intensive farming, let’s closely examine its advantages and disadvantages.
According to Wikipedia,
“Intensive farming or intensive agriculture involves various types of agriculture with higher levels of input and output per unit of agricultural land area. It is characterized by a low fallow ratio, higher use of inputs such as capital and labour, and higher crop yields per unit land area.”
Advantages of Intensive Farming
Some of the main pros of intensive farming include:
1. High Crop Yield
One of the main rewards of intensive farming is the production of high crop yields. Agricultural products such as meat, eggs, milk, fish, and cereals are highly demanded in contemporary food markets such as restaurants and supermarkets.
Satisfying the market demands has only been achievable through intensive farming because the yields are produced in large quantities on a small piece of land.
2. It Means More Variety of Food Can Be Produced
Since intensive farming mainly focuses on mass food production in a specific food crop or animal production, it leads to more variety of food for human consumption. Intensive farming requires a lot of labor, capital, and resources, which makes it more practical to only focus on one production area.
As a result, when farmers engage in various aspects of the practice — like intensive fruit or vegetable production (with options such as onions, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, etc.), intensive livestock farming (poultry, beef, goat, rabbit, pig, etc.), and intensive aquaculture — it leads to a greater diversity of food. This approach offers a wider range of food options due to the different areas of agricultural focus.
3. It Is More Efficient
Intensive farmers utilize less farm inputs and less land per unit of the foodstuff yielded, meaning the practice is more efficient. The farmer makes more profit by maximizing yields on a small piece of land as opposed to the conventional farming methods that needed large tracts of land but produced less yields/food produce.
The higher yield leads to reduced costs in terms of equipment, space, and inputs per unit of food produced, making it a more cost-effective and efficient approach.
4. Affordable Food Prices
As opposed to traditional farming, the employment of intensive farming to produce vegetables, poultry, beef, milk, eggs, and fruits has made food prices affordable. This is because intensive farming, unlike traditional farming, requires less space and produces more than the invested inputs.
Plus, the practice has substantially helped solve the world’s hunger problem. The high food supply produced through intensive farming lessens scarcity, forcing prices to fall within affordable ranges.
5. Helps in Ensuring Regulated Farming
Various agricultural institutes and environmental protection agencies have taken the initiative to monitor and control the possible adverse effects of intensive farming.
Consequently, the agencies and agricultural research institutes have set certain rules and regulations on using farm inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, growth hormones, and herbicides and have even stated clear measures on how to maintain and manage livestock. This ensures regulated farming, resulting in healthy, safe, and affordable farm produce.
6. Sustainable Supply of Food
With the demand for food soaring worldwide due to the ever-increasing world population, intensive farming offers the advantage of high crop productivity with the possibility of meeting the food market demands.
Besides, it requires less amount of land, which means that it significantly contributes to economies of scale in meeting the ever-escalating demand for food supplies.
Disadvantages of Intensive Farming
Even with all the benefits seen above, intensive farming doesn’t come without drawbacks. Here are some of the shortcomings of the practice;
1. Poor Living Conditions and Hygiene for Livestock
Intensive farming is highly criticized and thought to be cruel to the animals. Because it involves the use of various chemicals, growth hormones, and excess crowding in a small space, the outcome is usually poor living conditions and hygiene for the livestock.
2. Excessive Use of Agro-Chemicals
As earlier stated, intensive farming involves the utilization of numerous agrochemicals, including pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, and acaricides. When these chemicals are used, they not only destroy their intended targets, such as pests, weeds, and parasites, but also contaminate the food products.
Insecticides and pesticides also kill beneficial insects, which contributes to biodiversity loss. The workers and humans nearby are equally affected by the chemical sprays, and humans who consume the food indirectly take in the chemicals.
3. Deforestation and Alteration of The Natural Environment
Environmental studies and reports indicate that intensive farming impacts and degrades the environment in countless ways. Removing trees, slush and burn techniques, and clearing forest areas to create room for agriculture has led to massive deforestation and soil erosion.
As an outcome, natural habitats and wild animals have been heavily affected as the destructive practices have persistently contributed to habitat loss.
In addition, using chemical fertilizers and herbicides contaminates water soils, wildlife habitats, and water bodies like oceans, rivers, and lakes. Fertilizer nutrients, particularly, cause eutrophication in most of the world’s water bodies, such as oceans, lakes, and rivers.
4. Risks to Human Health
The vegetables and fruits are sourced from areas that practice intensive farming and are full of invisible pesticides. The challenge is that the pesticides cannot be washed away easily, and since the fruits and vegetables appear clean after a simple wash, humans indirectly consume the chemical pesticides.
The consumption of pesticides affects the health of humans with health risks such as physical deformity, skin allergy, and congenital diseases. ADHD in children, for example, is associated with consuming pesticides in agricultural food products.
5. Higher Risks of Cancer and Birth Defects
Public health publications and cancer statistics prove a direct correlation between the consumption of food sourced from intensive farming areas and an increasing number of cancer victims.
The consumption of food products from intensive farming areas is also responsible for the increase in congenital abnormality cases. Public health researchers say that the rising cases of children born with defects and cancer are probably caused by the consumption of inorganic fruits, meat, vegetables, and poultry.
6. The Use of Chemical Hormones in Food
Most food products produced through intensive farming systems, and especially vegetables, fruits, poultry, and livestock, contain growth hormones.
If one takes a keen look at the intensive farming systems, he or she will realize there are many hybrid varieties of plants, poultry, and livestock. Most of these are injected with growth hormones and other chemicals to augment production.
7. Possibility of Poor Quality Food Products
Since intensive farming centers primarily on the mass production of nice-looking food products, the production strategies overlook the need for quality and nutritious food products.
Consequently, the quality of foods sourced from intensive farming sites often lacks the same nutritional values as those produced using conventional or organic farming methods.
Plus, intensive farming aims to produce perfectly-looking yields and possibly extend their shelf life instead of enhancing nutritional value and taste, which breeds room for poor-quality food products in the long run.
8. Traditional Farmers Are Unable to Gain Enough Profits and Less Job Creation Opportunities
Unlike traditional farming, intensive farming utilizes less space, labor, and resources to produce much greater volumes. This makes it very hard for traditional farmers to compete.
Also, considering how industrialized intensive farming is, it does not have lots of jobs per unit of food produced, which means fewer job opportunities are created.