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Environmental issues

Environmental issues: Agriculture

     The environmental impact of agriculture varies based on the wide variety of agricultural practices employed around the world. Ultimately, the environmental impact depends on the production practices of the system used by farmers. The connection between emissions into the environment and the farming system is indirect, as it also depends on other climate variables such as rainfall and temperature. The environmental impact of agriculture involves a variety of factors from the soil, to water, the air, animal and soil diversity, people, plants, and the food itself. Some of the largest issues that arise with agriculture is climate change, deforestation, genetic engineering, irrigation problems, pollutants, soil degradation, and waste.

1. Agriculture and the environment (FAO)

     Agriculture accounts for the major share of human use of land. Pasture and crops alone took up 37 percent of the earth's land area in 1999. Over two-thirds of human water use is for agriculture. In Asia the share is four-fifths. Crop and livestock production have a profound effect on the wider environment. They are the main source of water pollution by nitrates, phosphates and pesticides. They are also the major anthropogenic source of the greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide, and contribute on a massive scale to other types of air and water pollution. The extent and methods of agriculture, forestry and fishing are the leading causes of loss of the world's biodiversity. The overall external costs of all three sectors can be considerable.

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2. Environmental impacts of farming

     Farmed areas – both on land and in the water – provide important habitats for many wild plants and animals. When farming operations are sustainably managed, they can help preserve and restore critical habitats, protect watersheds, and improve soil health and water quality. But when practiced without care, farming presents the greatest threat to species and ecosystems.

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3. Environmental Issues in Animal Agriculture

     The evolution of animal agriculture in North America is focusing increased attention on its impacts on water and air quality. The adoption of new technologies and the restructuring of the food and agricultural system are generating new economic and environmental impacts and influencing public perception about animal agriculture. The expansion of livestock and poultry production, particularly larger confined animal operations, is increasingly leading to private disputes and public issues concerning agricultural production and the environment. These disputes are leading to new patterns of costs and benefits and, in some cases, public policies that are affecting competitiveness of this sector. The issues and options to resolve them are complex and require increased understanding and involvement by all stakeholders. While new technologies to improve environmental performance and monitor progress will be developed, constraints on resources may limit implementation.

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