Pesticides and Fertilizers: Their Effect on Our Environment
Some Steps For Change
Recent studies have revealed the growth of excess nutrients and contaminants in many of Canada’s freshwater systems. The issue stems from the troubling spread of toxic algae blooms in which agricultural fertilizer is a fundamental culprit.
Toxic algae blooms are floating masses of blue-green fungi which deplete oxygen levels in our great lakes and rivers, emitting various toxins harmful to all manner of life, from micro organisms to humans.
Though disconcerting, the destructive impact of our conventional agricultural practices should come as no surprise. Agricultural runoff has caused these problems before, with tragic results the likes of which were witnessed in Walkerton, Ontario in May 2000.
When it comes to the agricultural practice, it is not strictly the production or even the biological integrity of the crops and soil that farmers need be concerned about. The surrounding environment can suffer greatly at the hands of carelessness or too much focus on short term gain and not enough on long term environmental sustainability.
In this issue both the use of fertilizer and pesticides are linked causally. Pesticides are indiscriminate killers. They do not exclusively kill troublesome insects, they destroy the entire ecosystem; insects, earthworms and microorganisms. This leads to soil degradation, completing a destructive circle in which conventional farmers are then required to use more powerful fertilizers in greater amounts when the soil yields fewer crops. Agricultural runoff becomes a more dangerous issue.
So, in order to decrease the effects fertilizer is having on our fresh water, we must decrease our use of pesticides, which has a number of benefits on its own which includes greater biodiversity and safer crops, not to mention safer workplaces in the agriculture industry. While pesticides can be harmful to the biological integrity of crops and the systems they grow in, they have also been implicated in rising cancer rates among those who work with them.
We need to revert to natural, organic methods of protecting and nurturing crops if we want to sustain the land that provides for us. This inevitably means raising crops in an environment that allows the ecosystem to flourish again. Natural methods of pest control such as introducing their natural predators to the environment have proven enormously successful. This practice among others, has yielded results in many organic environments, from small family operations to the Green Cane Project (GCP), the largest agriculturally organic endeavor on earth. Located on over 14 000 hectares of land in Brazil, they have four to five times the biodiversity of any conventional farm due to the use of beneficial insects counteracting insects of a destructive nature.
Allowing soil systems to regenerate does not mean an end to fertilizer use, it means that the excessive use of fertilizer, and the use of chemical fertilizers, are unnecessary as well as being counterproductive from a long term perspective. Organic initiatives everywhere have demonstrated the utility of crab meal, lobster shells, wood waste, fish waste, biosolids and many other safe, natural methods of nourishing the soil. It is efforts like these that reduce the risk that conventional fertilizers impose on our water systems, our crops, and our various ecosystems.
As Canadians and as inhabitants of this planet, we all have a vested interest in preventing unbridled pollution and promoting a healthier lifestyle for ourselves. As far as agriculture is concerned, we should be working with our environment as a living organism, co operatively, not warping it to fit the economic agenda or other human inventions. As consumers, we must be willing to make the effort to make conscious decisions about the products we buy. We must take the time to consider where they come from, how they were grown and processed, and whether or not we are willing to support the way in which our planet may be effected by those we support with our business. We must not only ensure that we are able to make informed decisions, but we need to make sure our representatives in parliament know what the issues are, and that we determined to see change for the better.
For more information regarding the ways in which our water systems are being affected by our agricultural habits, sewer systems, and industrial waste, I have included an article from the Toronto Star by Steve Rennie.