Ecological Impacts of Industrial Agriculture and the Possibilities for Truly Sustainable Farming


  • Miguel A. Altieri





Until about four decades ago, crop yields in agricultural systems depended mainly on internal resources, recycling of organic matter, built-in biological control mechanisms, and natural rainfall patterns. Agricultural yields were modest but stable. Production was safeguarded by growing more than one crop or variety in a field as insurance against pest outbreaks or severe weather. Inputs of nitrogen were gained by rotating major field crops with legumes. Growing many different types of crops over the years in the same field also suppressed insects, weeds, and diseases by effectively breaking the life cycles of these pests. A typical corn-belt farmer grew corn rotated with several crops including soybeans as well as the clovers, alfalfa, and small grains needed to maintain livestock. Most of the labor was done by the family with occasional hired help, and no specialized equipment or services were purchased from off-farm sources. In these types of farming systems the link between agriculture and ecology was quite strong and signs of environmental degradation were seldom evident.

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