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Organic farming: How significant is soil health?

Soil Health of Organic Farming

Organic farming approaches, which are characterized by a lack of chemical inputs as well as absence of genetically modified organisms, originated in counterculture to the industrial revolution and were originally concerned primarily with soil fertility and wholesome tactics; slowly, a system of standards began to emerge as the demand for organics increased.

Organic agricultural practices often lead to greater soil fertility, despite potentially lower yields, as well as increased biodiversity, and are therefore important to analyze with regard to conventional crops within the United States. In addition, practices such as crop rotation, green manure application, and composting benefit the overall health of organic soils in comparison to conventional practices, which may include sewage sludge application, ionic radiation, and synthetic pesticide usage.

According to Maeder, et al., “In our experimental plots, organically managed soils exhibit greater biological activity than the conventionally managed soils,” (2002). This is important to note, as prevalence and presence of high species diversity is often an indicator of a healthful and thriving ecosystem; in Daniel Nessly’s publication in the WWU Master’s Thesis Collection, it was stated that “Healthy soil is defined by researchers Van Bruggen and Semenov as “a stable system with resilience to stress, high biological diversity, and high levels of internal nutrient cycling”(2015). The farming practices affiliated with organic standards recurrently produce crops with higher resistance to disease, as well as “the minimization of nutrient losses” (Ory 2015).

Soil health on organic farms exhibits significant “physical and biological soil quality indicator values on organic farms could also be a result of a reduced tillage and plow passes and depth, higher use of organic manure fertilizers, and an absence of chemical fertilizers and pesticides,” (Nessly 2015). Moreover, conventional farms’ soils were higher quality in regards to the chemical aspect specifically, as said soil had a higher pH, as well as greater levels of phosphorus and potassium, but not salinity. Similar results were concluded by Maeder, et al., “Soluble fractions of phosphorus and potassium were lower in the organic soils than in the conventional soils, whereas calcium and magnesium were higher,” (2002). It can therefore be concluded that organic soils and conventional soils differ in various nutrients, respectively; this can be attributed to the addition of nutrients to both soils by farmers, through different means, as conventional farmers are not bound to specifics in order to uphold the credibility of their certification and can therefore be more liberal in the application of pesticides, manures, and synthetic chemicals. On the other hand, organic farmers “use natural soil amendments like geologic minerals, compost, and manure to deliver a slow release of nutrients into the soil,” (Ory 2015).

Due to increased biodiversity, as well as a reliance on natural and USDA certified methods of pest control, organic farms often exhibit less soil erosion, and overall greater health in regards to key nutrients. According to Ory, “Abbott and Manning (2015) point out that organic soil management can increase nutrient use efficiency, reduce losses of nutrients to water bodies, reduce erosion, and increase access to water during drought periods” (2015). Therefore, organic practices should become mainstream in the United States, as opposed to the current status quo of conventional farming tactics.

Veganism: Minimizing Water Usage and Protecting the Ozone Layer

As an outdoor enthusiast from the pacific northwest, the environment has always been something I’m fiercely passionate about; therefore, it is not surprising that I made the transition to vegetarianism almost four years ago after being persuaded by environmentalist literature. I have since committed to a vegan lifestyle, and have been advocating for consumer awareness in order to minimize eaters’ impacts on both our water systems as well as our atmosphere.

The Vegetarian Resource Group advocates for water conservation through the expulsion of meat from diets, as nearly two-thirds of people worldwide lack the water needed to perform basic daily tasks, as estimated by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (“Save Our Water: The Vegetarian Way”). The key to conserving water is simple: veganism, as “but the biggest way animal agriculture consumes water is indirectly. A large amount of fresh water is used to grow the feed that livestock animals eat. By comparison, it takes a lot less water to grow the grains, beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables that make up a typical vegetarian diet,” (“Save Our Water: The Vegetarian Way”). In order to save the planet, issues of water consumption and the depletion of resources must be taken into the hands, forks, and knives of well-informed citizens. “Yes, with global warming melting polar ice caps, with the obliteration of thousands of species each year, with the loss of almost one-third of our agricultural land over a single generation, our planet is nearing the point at which hope, honest hope, will no longer be possible. Yes, every day, we are pushing our little planet closer to hope’s very edge,” (Lappe). Hope for the planet is not lost, and can be strengthened whilst the vegan movement grows in numbers and spreads knowledge.

Aside from simply consuming mass quantities of water in order to inefficiently produce livestock, factory farming often leads to the depletion and contamination of water supplies. In the plains states, farmers have been relying on the Ogallala aquifer, draining as much as “800 gallons of water every minute”, and acting “as if they were draining the last keg at a fraternity party: drink as much and as quickly as possible or somebody else will drink it for you,” (Marcus 159). Additionally, Marcus raises the question of, “How conscious can a decision be that exhausts in 40 years a resource [the Ogallala aquifer] that took half a million year to accumulate?” (160).

Cutting flesh-based proteins out of one’s diet does more than just conserve water, as according to the Environmental Defense Fund, “if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads,” (Kasbee). Worldwide, livestock production is responsible for nearly eighteen percent of carbon dioxide emissions and eight percent of water use; it is crucial to recognize that in Latin America, land that was once rainforested is now seventy percent pasture for livestock; in addition, in 2011, “30 percent of the earth’s entire land surface” was used for animal agriculture (“Environmental Destruction”, Stone 37). Twenty three times more powerful than carbon dioxide, “thirty seven percent of methane” gas produced per year is directly linked to livestock agriculture. “A land area equivalent to seven football fields is destroyed in the Amazon basin every minute. “For each hamburger produced from animals raised on rainforest land, approximately 55 square feet of forest have been destroyed” (Stone 36). Published by Vegan Outreach, David Brubaker of John Hopkins University stated, “The way that we breed animals for food is a threat to the planet. It pollutes our environment while consuming huge amounts of water, grain, petroleum, pesticides and drugs. The results are disastrous,” (“Environmental Destruction”). Lastly, study conducted by the University of Chicago in 2006 found that the average American’s diet contributes to their overall annual carbon footprint of “two-and-a-half-ton[s]… every year” (Esselstyn 77). As estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in order to harvest a single pound of beef, 2,500 gallons of water are required, whereas only 250 gallons are required to produce the same amount of soy, and 25 for grain (Stone 38). Animal agriculture is a thirsty business, utilizing nearly eighty percent of all irrigation in the United States, and often leads to the pollution of rivers, as animal waste is often carelessly disposed of, allowing harmful hormones and bacteria to create contamination (“The Benefits of Veg”). As Lappe states, “We seldom hear about the ways in which this highly concentrated factory-farming system is rapidly destroying the resources we need to ensure our long-term well-being,” (8).

I do not believe in, nor advocate for the consumption of animal products for the sake of preserving our planet’s health, especially with regards to water usage and minimizing damage to the ozone layer.

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