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Are intensive agricultural practices environmentally and ethically sound?

Abstract

Soil is fragile and nonrenewable but the most basic of natural resources. It has a capacity to tolerate continuous use but only with proper management. Improper soil management and indiscriminate use of chemicals have contributed to some severe global environmental issues, e.g., volatilization losses and contamination of natural waters by sediments and agricultural fertilizers and pesticides. The increasing substitution of energy for labor and other cultural inputs in agriculture is another issue. Fertilizers and chemicals account for about 25% of the production energy investment in agriculture. An additional 60% is accounted for by machinery, gasoline, electricity, and power-related inputs. Fertilizer additions to cropland are not utilized fully and significant amounts, depending on conditions, are either lost in surface runoff or leached into the ground water. The annual discharge of dissolved solids from agricultural lands to the waterways in the USA is substantial. The increasing use of herbicides in agriculture is a threat to the quality of surface and ground water, although this threat is dependent upon both the chemistry of the compound and the ecosystem in which it is used. Especially within the Third World, development of an environmental ethic and environmental laws have not kept pace with the increase in pesticide use. Above all is the severe and global problem of soil degradation currently occurring at the rate of five to seven million hectares per year. The policy and moral aspects of these issues are discussed.

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Lal, R., Miller, F.P. & Logan, T.J. Are intensive agricultural practices environmentally and ethically sound?. Journal of Agricultural Ethics 1, 193–210 (1988). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01833409

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Keywords

  • Soil degradation
  • erosion
  • environment
  • pollution
  • food production
  • leaching