Intensive vegetable farming has become popular across the world as a way of enhancing the yield and/or productivity of important food crops. It is most popular in heavily populated areas of Europe and Asia, where traditional farming methods simply can’t produce enough food to support growing populations.
By utilising proper intensive farming techniques, farmers are able to produce affordable food at a low cost, which translates to cheaper produce for the consumer. Smaller areas of land are needed to produce the same volume of food, which means higher yields and bigger profits for farmers. However, the excess fertilizer and chemical usage which is often associated with intensive farming techniques can cause irreversible harm to the environment, and to the health of the people who consume the produce. For this reason, it is important to properly examine the advantages and disadvantages of intensive vegetable farming before accepting it as the best production method[sc:1].
Advantages of intensive vegetable farming
- Very high yields
This is the basic principle behind any type of intensive farming – being able to produce large amounts of food off a smaller area than has been historically possible. This is especially useful in heavily populated areas, where farms are generally small anyway[sc:2].
- Lower costs
Since a smaller land area is being farmed, the costs of farming are naturally lower. Fertilizer and chemical inputs will be less, maintenance will be reduced, and the cost of the land itself is less. This means that farmers are able to produce high quality, low cost vegetables, which then translates to[sc:2]:
- Affordable produce
Low costs to the producer naturally means that we pay less for our veggies – or we should anyway. However, this doesn’t always happen. Large supermarkets and shopping centres will often keep their prices the same, even if they are paying the farmer less[sc:2].
- Reduced food shortages
If intensive vegetable farming practices are used in areas where malnutrition and food shortages are common, then they can help keep people healthy and properly fed. Some third world countries, especially in Africa, could benefit greatly from the introduction of intensive farming practices. Not only would it provide cheaper and more accessible food sources to impoverished families, but it would also create a number of jobs for unemployed people, giving them a chance to take control of their own lives[sc:3].
Disadvantages of intensive vegetable farming
- Excess fertilizer usage
High levels of fertilizer use are one of the cornerstones of intensive vegetable farming. By pumping as many nutrients as possible into the crop – often hydroponically (by growing the plants in a nutrient rich solution, rather than in soil) – plants are able to grow faster and bear heavier crops. However, much of this fertilizer is lost in rainwater runoff and released into the environment. Here it makes its way into waterways and eventually into the ocean, where it can cause algal blooms, hypoxic zones such as the Gulf of Mexico, and kill sensitive marine life[sc:4].
- Chemical usage
Huge amounts of toxic chemicals are utilised throughout the intensive farming process. In the same way as fertilizers, many of these chemicals eventually find their way into waterways and the ocean, harming animals and damaging ecosystems[sc:4].
- Environmental harm
As mentioned above, the high levels of fertilizer and chemicals which are used during intensive vegetable farming can be extremely damaging to the environment. In particular, they can have huge negative effects on aquatic organisms and ecosystems[sc:4].
- Health effects
The chemicals used also affect human health. They make their way into the produce, and are then ingested by the consumer. This can often negatively impact health, causing or contributing to a range of diseases[sc:3].