Intensive farming or intensive agriculture is an agricultural production system characterized by the high inputs of capital, labour, or heavy usage of technologies such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers relative to land area.
This is in contrast to many sorts of sustainable agriculture such as organic farming or extensive agriculture, which involve higher inputs of labor, and energy relative to the area of land farmed, but focus on maintaining the long-term ecological health of the farmland, also the product which is being produced is generally produced with fewer synthetic chemicals.
Modern day forms of intensive crop based agriculture involve the use of mechanical ploughing, chemical fertilizers, plant growth regulators and/or pesticides. It is associated with the increasing use of agricultural mechanization, which have enabled a substantial increase in production, yet have also dramatically increased environmental pollution by increasing erosion and poisoning water with agricultural chemicals.
Advantages of Intensive Farming
Intensive agriculture has a number of benefits:
- Significantly increased yield per acre, per person, and per GBP relative to extensive farming and therefore,
- Food becomes more affordable to the consumer as it costs less to produce.
- The same area of land is able to supply food and fibre for a larger population reducing the risk of starvation.
- The preservation of existing areas of woodland and rainforest habitats (and the ecosystems and other sustainable economies that these may harbour), which would need to be felled for extensive farming methods in the same geographical location. This also leads to a reduction in anthropomorphic CO2 generation (resulting from removal of the sequestration afforded by woodlands and rainforests).
- In the case of intensive livestock farming: an opportunity to capture methane emissions which would otherwise contribute to global warming. Once captured, these emissions can be used to generate heat and/or electrical energy, thereby reducing local demand for fossil fuels.
Disadvantages of Intensive Farming
Intensive farming alters the environment in many ways.
- Limits or destroys the natural habitat of most wild creatures, and leads to soil erosion.
- Use of fertilizers can alter the biology of rivers and lakes. Some environmentalists attribute the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico as being encouraged by nitrogen fertilization of the algae bloom.
- Pesticides generally kill useful insects as well as those that destroy crops.
- Is often not sustainable if not properly managed—may result in desertification, or land that is so poisonous and eroded that nothing else will grow there.
- Requires large amounts of energy input to produce, transport, and apply chemical fertilizers/pesticides
- The chemicals used may leave the field as runoff eventually ending up in rivers and lakes or may drain into groundwater aquifers.
- Use of pesticides have numerous negative health effects in workers who apply them, people that live nearby the area of application or downstream/downwind from it, and consumers who eat the pesticides which remain on their food.
There are different intensive farming techniques. Pre-mordern era of intensive farming included terracing, rice paddies as well as aquacultue (aquafarming). With industrialization, modern intensive farming techniques have been introduced. The techniques help in production of the highest yield at the lowest possible cost. Some of the types of intensive farming are as follows:
Factory Farming : Factory farming involves intensive farming of livestock in confinement. The farm actually functions as a factory for raising animals for meat, milk as well as eggs for commercial use. However, the animals are forever kept in closed confined areas like cages and crates. They are not allowed to carry on with their natural behavior like foraging or exploratory nature. Their life span is reduced considerably due to the poor living conditions in which these animals are kept.
Aquaculture : Cultivation of fish, shellfish, algae, seaweed, etc. under controlled conditions is called aquaculture or aquafarming. This type of intensive farming may also involve use of tanks or systems that help in boosting the production of the aquatic yields. However, over farming is causing extensive damage to the ecosystem as there is increase in completion between the farm animals and the wild animals.
Sustainable Agriculture : The practice of farming that the study of relation between organisms and their environment. This is a biointensive agriculture that causes increase in yield per unit area, yield per energy input, yield per water input, etc. It involves use of intercropping as well as vertical farming.
Management Intensive Rotational Grazing : Managed intensive rotational grazing (MIRG) involves use of ruminant and non-ruminant herds to graze and forage on a portion of pasture, farm or paddock. This helps the vegetation on the field to renew its energy reserves, deepen the root system as well as help in long-term increase of biomass production. The animals in turn obtain the natural nutritional requirements from grazing, eliminating the need for supplemental feed sources.