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Opinions | Ask an Agro: Giving credit to conventional farming

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Combine harvesting wheat. | Flickr / Charles Knowles

Conventional farming is the most widely used method in field crop production. It is known for its economic bene­fits, yet its environmental and social qualities are often seen in a negative light.

Conventional farming methods include the use of synthesized fertilizers, her­bicides, genetically modified crop varieties, large precision machinery and advancing technologies. It is the inte­grated use of these continual­ly evolving farming practices that allow us to produce the volume of food needed to keep up with a growing population — while also trying to reduce the impact crop production has on the environment.

Zero-till practices can help mitigate farming’s impact on soil health and prevent ero­sion. It’s often paired with herbicides which are used for the management of unwanted vegetation, such as weeds.

Tillage is the old, alternative vegetation management prac­tice but it breaks up the soil as it rips out weeds growing in it. The soil then becomes very loose and can be easily moved by wind or water. This erosion can strip a field of its most fer­tile soil and its productivity.

Zero-till practices leave stubble, litter and crop roots on and in the soil to stabilize it and protect it from potentially eroding. Unfortunately, this also creates an inviting envi­ronment for weeds to grow, which is why herbicides are needed.

This combination works to create a productive environ­ment while protecting soil health.

Using additional inputs, such as synthetic or natural fertilizers, is common prac­tice in conventional farming. Synthetic fertilizers include manufactured supplements of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus while natural fer­tilizers consist of animal or plant waste.

Synthetic fertilizers are popular because producers have the ability to apply spe­cific rates of each nutrient needed based on the field and crop being grown. Done properly, this can limit the harmful runoff and allows optimal growing conditions for the crop.

Genetically modified crops are used in conventional farming and can be grown to increase yields and tolerate drought conditions to allow for more productive crop farming. These crops require less water and less land, re­sulting in a smaller environ­mental footprint.

While organic practices have a smaller environmental impact per land area, con­ventional farming is proven to have a smaller environ­mental impact per volume produced. This is because the total amount of land needed to produce equal volumes of grain is much less with con­ventional practices.

Conventional farming con­tinues to evolve its techniques to limit the impact on the en­vironment. These practices are favourable for growing the large amounts of crops need­ed to feed our growing pop­ulation. Since conventional farming strives to protect the soil, the land can continue to produce at a consistently high quality for decades to come.

This op-ed was written by a University of Saskatchewan undergraduate student and reflects the views and opinions of the writer. If you would like to write a rebuttal, please email opinions@thesheaf.com.

Kaylie Krys

Photo: Flickr | Charles Knowles

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