Agriculture's Impact on the Environment (And How We Can Improve It)
Farmers' actions significantly affect our environment's health. With the execution of responsible farming practices, we can better our relationship with the world one farm at a time.
The agriculture industry consists of many sectors, like traditional farming, cattle ranching, dairy production, and logging. The farming sector of agriculture represents the cannabis farmer, like us, as well as berry farmers, grain farmers, orchard operators, and other crop farmers. With 2.2 million farms in America on approximately 915 million acres of land, farmers' actions significantly affect our environment's health. In 2018, the agriculture sector directly supplied 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, but with the execution of responsible farming practices, we can better our relationship with the world one farm at a time.
While a city's building tops drowning in thick, grey smog may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of pollution, for farming, water and soil pollution are additional concerns. Pollution is a massive contributor to weakening the earth's health, but the negative impacts a farm has on the environment will depend upon the farmer's cultivation methods and their understanding of the land. Air pollution can come from farming equipment, like tractors and diesel/gas generators. For the cannabis farmer, generators are used when the power goes out or to run equipment on rural lands with limited electrical capacity. As for water, not only does the agriculture industry account for 70 percent of all water withdrawals, it also regularly contributes to water contamination. Runoff from farms carries pesticides, soil residue, organic matter, and other pollutants into our nearby streams, which then travel to larger bodies of water, like lakes and oceans. This can be detrimental to our wildlife and clean water sources and can indirectly end up in our food supply. In regards to the soil, certain farming practices, like over-use of the land and excessive tilling, can destroy the soil's natural composition and remove beneficial microbial life, making the land infertile and susceptible to extreme erosion. Over-tilling the ground can also increase greenhouse gas emissions, as can certain ranching practices.
The California cannabis industry has regulations and testing requirements that help combat some of the negatives seen in the farming industry, but the newly legal hemp industry still needs some attention. Industrial hemp has few regulations in regards to lessening its impact on the environment. It doesn’t require any pesticide testing or land stewardship responsibility to preserve natural resources. But not all is lost, as there are many ways all farmers can adjust our farming methods to reduce the negative impact on the planet, and in some cases, improve it. Due to the advancement in available technologies and educational resources, responsible farming practices are being adopted more and more each year.
Proper monitoring of an on-property weather station can help a farmer plan for upcoming rains, encouraging them not to apply nutrients or sprays that can be washed away into our water channels.
Working within unique land restrictions can reduce erosion and save resources. By applying cover crops, considering sun exposure and natural water drainage canals before planting, and using a natural boundary around garden beds, farmers can discourage erosion and improve their soil's water retention.
Commercial orchards are adopting smart-spraying machines that severely limit the number of pest-repellants applied to their trees, reducing the number of possible pollutants released into the air, water, and soil. Other commercial farmers can begin implementing similar smart-spraying tactics to combat pest pressure sustainability.
By adjusting farming methods to reduce or eliminate tilling, like by applying cover crops, using Hugelkulture beds, or utilizing crop rotation when weeds are too abundant to avoid tilling altogether, a farmer can maintain healthy soil on their land.
Using renewable sources for power, like solar or wind energy, is a great way to combat the air pollutants released by powering a farm, and these applications are becoming more and more affordable each day.
Although the industrial hemp industry still needs some work to ensure responsible farming practices, if cultivated organically and sustainably, farmers growing other textile crops, like cotton, could switch over to hemp as it requires significantly less water and land space. It also has phytoremediation potential and can offer a sustainable alternative to concrete and paper production.
While adjusting our practices is a great way to combat bad farming habits, there are many positives the farming industry currently brings to the world. Farmers Markets help build local communities by supporting their small businesses and creating a culture of collaboration. Purchasing from a farmer's market is also much more sustainable, saving wasteful packaging, reducing transportation emissions, and encouraging local food production to keep native pollinators nearby. Personal gardening can reduce a household's carbon footprint by 68 pounds of CO2 per year if used to replace just 20 percent of their groceries with food from their garden. This can also save families money, decrease their waste production, and offer inputs in the form of compost for rebuilding their garden's soil. Even commercial farmers can keep their food scraps to rebuild the soil they use for their crops. For us in the Hive Mendocino cannabis cooperative, we re-use and rebuild our soil before each cycle so that we're adding to the planet rather than taking from it.
As we advance, we can see the agriculture industry enhance its relationship with the earth by educating farmers and ranchers on their current environmental impact and their responsibility to improve it. Transparency with the end consumer is a huge factor as well, being that many American's are unaware of just how much environmental damage their grocery store trip is making. As a new industry in agriculture, cannabis has a unique opportunity to shape better farming practices. We must use our voices to spread awareness and introduce creative and affordable options that support a sustainable future.
All of the Hive Mendocino farmers are certified Simply Clean by The Cannabis Conservancy, demonstrating our adherence to strict cultivation standards that are sustainable for the earth. If you're a licensed wholesale buyer in California, reach out to us, and we'll send you our current bulk craft cannabis inventory.