13 Environmental Impacts of Industrial Agriculture

Industrial agriculture appeared to be a technological marvel in the middle of the 20th century, enabling food production to keep up with the world’s expanding population.

Chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and hybrid high-yield cereals all made promises to lower hunger, feed expanding populations, and boost the economy.

Global food shortages were avoided, and an abundance of affordable food was produced between 1960 and 2015 thanks to a more than threefold increase in agricultural production.

Because of its reputation for dependability and efficiency, it continues to be the predominant method of producing food in many regions of the world. However, there is no denying that industrial agriculture has unfavorable consequences, given its well-documented negative repercussions.

Environmental Impacts of Industrial Agriculture

This article examines the modern meaning of industrial agriculture and its detrimental effects on the environment. Let’s get into the specifics now.

  • Livestock Water Pollution
  • Livestock Air Pollution
  • Nitrogen-Based Fertilizers
  • Nutrient Runoff
  • Chemical Pesticides
  • Damage to Rural Communities and Farms
  • Lost Biodiversity
  • Loss of Small-Sized Farms
  • Destruction of Forest Cover
  • Causes Climate Change
  • Enteric Fermentation
  • Caloric Inefficiency
  • Changes in Land Use

1. Livestock Water Pollution

As with other animals, cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys’ poop. There must be a place for all of that animal manure from farms. However, animal waste from “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation“ (CAFOs) is not sent to a wastewater treatment plant via the municipal sewer system, as is the case with human waste.

Rather, this garbage is dumped by spreading it over land without any treatment. Operators are expected to apply no more manure than what crops can utilize, but in practice, manure is frequently applied in excess, exceeding the ground’s natural rate of absorption and causing runoff into water sources.

To make matters worse, the manure typically rests in enormous manure lagoons on-site, some of which can reach the size of a football field, before being spread to land. The antibiotic residue, chemicals, and bacteria that break down the waste combine to form a hazardous stew in the lagoons that can eventually take on an unsettling color.

They frequently have no lining, which makes them vulnerable to spills, leaks, and overflows that let the contents seep into the groundwater and soil. And when this mixture—rich in nitrogen and phosphorus—enters a body of water, it sets off a chain reaction known as eutrophication, which results in the proliferation of harmful algae.

Similar issues occur with chicken waste, which is primarily dry litter that is kept in large, open mounds and consists of the birds’ excrement, loose feathers, and bedding items (such as shavings). Waterways are more vulnerable to phosphorus runoff from chicken dung because it has a higher phosphorus content than other animal manures.

2. Livestock Air Pollution

Our air is also contaminated by livestock and their dung. Just the management of manure is responsible for 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture worldwide and 12 percent in the US. Small, deadly solid particles are created when ammonia from manure reacts with other air pollutants like sulfates and nitrogen oxides.

These particles, which humans inhale, are known to cause lung and heart ailments and, as of 2021, to be the cause of at least 3.3 million fatalities annually worldwide. Furthermore, those who live close to CAFOs have complained about the unpleasant smell of hog feces in particular.

3. Nitrogen-Based Fertilizers

Due to its ability to produce large yields even on overflowed soil, nitrogen-based fertilizer has played a significant role in the modernization of agriculture throughout the past century. However, fertilizer has detrimental effects on our climate and water resources.

Plants utilize nitrogen as one of their main building blocks, and healthy soil makes effective use of nitrogen. However, monocropping causes the soil to become depleted of nutrients, therefore farmers must attempt to regenerate the soil by doing things like planting cover crops or, if that fails, moving on to other arable lands.

There are several significant distinctions between nitrogen-synthesized forms and nitrogen found naturally in our atmosphere. Nitrogen that occurs naturally, called N2, is harder for plants to use and needs the assistance of certain bacteria to become accessible.

However, synthetic fertilizer is composed of ammonia (NH3), which is based on nitrogen and hydrogen and is directly absorbed by plants. Chemical processes require a lot of resources to convert N2 into NH3, and this form of nitrogen is more likely to react with environmental elements other than plants.

Furthermore, excess nitrogen can turn into nitrogen oxide, which contributes to ground-level smog, or nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, when it enters the atmosphere (which happens frequently when fertilizer is sprayed in large quantities).

4. Nutrient Runoff

We should wean ourselves off of synthetic fertilizers for reasons other than the effects on climate; these chemicals have a significant negative environmental impact due to nutrient runoff.

Runoff is the result of nutrient-rich material—such as manure or fertilizer—finding its way into neighboring lakes, rivers, and seas. This material devastates our freshwater and marine ecosystems because it is full of nitrogen and phosphorus. Rainfall that is too heavy can contribute to both runoff and soil erosion.

This is how it operates: Algal overgrowth in a water system is brought on by an abundance of nutrients. Aerobic bacteria break down the dying algae, using up oxygen and depriving other marine life in the process. Overgrowth of algae can also obstruct sunlight, upsetting the sun-dependent ecosystem beneath the water’s surface.

For surveyed rivers and streams, runoff pollution (also referred to as agricultural nonpoint source pollution) is the main cause of pollution, while it is the third-largest source for lakes and the second-largest for wetlands. For oceans, the land is thought to be the source of an astounding 80% of marine pollution.

But we can control how to stop it. By implementing regenerative agriculture techniques, such as enhancing soil health via the planting of cover crops and enhancing water quality through the planting of buffer crops along streamsides, farmers can dramatically minimize nutrient runoff.

5. Chemical Pesticides

Pesticides such as neonics are detrimental not just to human health but also to pollinators. These pervasive pollutants have contributed to the dramatic decline in the populations of native pollinators like the rusty-patched bumble bee and the iconic monarch butterfly in recent decades.

However, governments are frequently hesitant to outlaw or even restrict the use of pesticides due to pressure from business lobbyists and pesticide producers. Rather, they opt to transfer the risk to rural communities, agricultural laborers, and consumers.

6. Damage to Rural Communities and Farms

The effects of industrial agriculture on the environment are greatest in regions dominated by multinational food conglomerates. It should come as no surprise that farmworkers and their families suffer the worst effects from air and water pollution, as well as direct chemical exposure.

The majority of farmworkers hired by these big businesses aren’t given health insurance or pay that may help them improve their financial situation, despite the health hazards.

Missed employment and medical debt become an exponentially higher financial burden for people who are most likely to become unwell, or even fatally ill, from exposure to industrial pollutants.

7. Lost Biodiversity

Because they sustain a wide variety of life, diverse farms are an excellent answer. Contrarily, industrial farms don’t operate that way. Because of this, there is a deficit of vital ecosystem services like pollination as the new agricultural technique is adopted more widely.

8. Loss of Small-Sized Farms

There once was a small- and mid-sized farming sector in the US agriculture system. That is no longer the case today. These farmers’ survival is in jeopardy due to pressure to grow or export. The economies of farm and rural states have suffered as a result of this tendency.

As you can see, there is a growing need for resources to safeguard the environment. However, industrial agriculture has a detrimental effect on the local economy. Thus, it restricts the capacity of people and governments to the appropriate strategists focused on Earth preservation.

9. Destruction of Forest Cover

One adverse effect of industrial agriculture that requires particular attention is deforestation. Recall that to increase their profits, farmers in the US alone have removed almost 260 million acres of forest. The majority of the area is designated for the production of animal feed.

Keep in mind that deforestation is not exclusive to the US. In Brazil, the loss of about three million acres can be attributed to industrial agriculture. To make place for soybean production, more than 100 million hectares of the Amazon forest have been removed.

Brazil’s deforestation has released enough carbon into the sky to cause a fifty percent spike in global warming.

Native Americans are frequently negatively impacted by deforestation as well. Because forest removal encourages soil erosion, floods destroy their homelands. This implies that there is a serious threat to the survival of indigenous populations that reside in woods and rely on them.

Keep in mind that because plants are so important to the food chain, anything that negatively impacts their health endangers the lives of all living creatures.

10. Causes Climate Change

One important factor contributing to the global climate change is industrial agriculture. As briefly stated earlier, it accelerates soil erosion.

Furthermore, industrial agriculture contributes to environmental contamination in general by mishandling water resources, over-reliance on fossil fuels, incorrect carbon sequestration, and improper use of farming land.

The earth’s reflected light cannot escape back into space due to the atmosphere’s increased carbon content, which causes climate change and global warming.

11. Enteric Fermentation

It’s a fancy term for a phenomenon that’s not so fancy: gas and cow burps. Goats, sheep, and cows are examples of ruminant animals whose digestive systems include enteric fermentation.

Fibrous foods like grass are broken down and fermented by gut microorganisms, releasing methane, which has 28–34 times the global warming potential of carbon.

Enteric fermentation accounts for about 179 million metric tons of emissions equivalent to carbon dioxide annually, which makes up the majority of the total greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural output.

12. Caloric Inefficiency

The high carbon cost of beef is a result of its calorie inefficiency. Producing cattle requires a lot more area, water, and food than producing fruits and vegetables. The fertilizers and insecticides used to grow livestock feed are usually made with fossil fuels.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the combined effect of these factors results in diets high in meat producing 59% more greenhouse gasses than vegetarian diets, with beef contributing 34 times more to global warming per unit of weight than legumes like beans and lentils.

Furthermore, while composting cow dung emits more methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, planting crops like legumes aids in the sequestration of more nitrogen in the soil.

13. Changes in Land Use

The ecology suffers twofold when more cattle are raised on repurposed land. Animal agriculture is not only resource-intensive and toxic, but it also destroys various ecosystems and releases stored carbon into the atmosphere when land that once supported forests and other flora is cleared for development.

For example, cattle ranching is responsible for around 80 percent of the deforestation in all Amazonian countries, which is catastrophic for the rainforest.

Moreover, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has discovered that, worldwide, agriculture accounts for around 90% of deforestation, with 40% coming from livestock grazing.

To combat climate change and lower our carbon emissions, dense carbon sinks like this rainforest must be preserved.


Without a doubt, modern agriculture contributes to the world’s increasing pollution. This system can also be used by businesspeople to gain money.

However, it is evident from the negative impacts of industrial agriculture that we have already discussed that this type of farming is not sustainable. We will therefore almost certainly lose something significant, whichever course of action we take.

Precision farming technologies are the best way to lessen the negative impacts of industrial agriculture since everyone requires a balanced diet.

Governments must strike a balance between protecting the environment and ensuring that people have sufficient access to food and other necessities.

You ought to cut back on the amount of money you spend on meat and quit using fertilizers and pesticides carelessly. If you stop deforestation and plant more trees, you might also succeed.

In general, we must switch to sustainable farming practices to protect the planet for future generations.


Editor at EnvironmentGo! | providenceamaechi0@gmail.com | + posts

A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

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