The devastating daily loss of habitat in the amazon rainforest is not a new battle within conservation. Regularly we see images of vast baron land where primary forest once stood, all too often we hear of yet another species making its way up the IUCN list as a result of habitat loss, but who or what is driving this destruction?
Cattle- ranching, small-scale agriculture and soy bean production are the leading causes of Amazon destruction in Brazil; currently, cattle occupy more than 60% of deforested areas. However, the impacts of beef production in the Amazon does not stop at Brazilian cattle farming. Increasing demands of red meat across the globe greatly contributes to this issue through the production of soy-bean as a main source of protein in animal feeds. Approximately 80% of the Amazon produced soy is destined for animal feed.
What was once considered a luxury, meat is now a common part of most if not all British meals. As a nation we eat on average 79 Kilograms of meat per year: to put that into perspective a fully grown finisher pig reaches approximately 70 Kilograms before slaughter, that’s a whole lot of meat!!
To produce just one Kilogram of beef it costs more than 15,000 litres of water, 6.5 Kilograms of crop and 330 square meters of ground. That’s 26,070 m2 of land needed to feed one person in the UK for one year.
Feeding the 9 billion:
By 2050 the human population is set to reach 9 billion, to feed that population our current crop production will need to double. The question posed is; How are we going to feed 9 billion people without devastating our already fragile natural world and the incredible array of animals within it?
Habitat loss is just one of the many environmental impacts caused by food production, some of the issues we face include:
- Soil erosion
- Water pollution
- Anti-biotic resistance
- Coral bleaching
- Ocean and lake dead-zones
- Algae blooms
- Habitat fragmentation
As well as facing a rapidly increasing world population, we are also witnessing an increase in the consumption of meat and diary within developing countries. By 2020, developing countries will consume 107 million metric tons (mmt) more meat and 177 mmt more milk than they did in 1996/1998, dwarfing developed-country increases of 19 mmt for meat and 32 mmt for milk, all of which require, soy.
Vertical crop systems or hydroponic systems; the future of farming?
What is hydroponic farming?
Hydroponics is a method of growing crops without the use of soil. Hydroponic systems fall simply into two categories; a solution or liquid culture or an aggregate culture. In a liquid system the roots grow directly into the nutrient rich liquid and form their own root structure, in an aggregate system the roots grow into or around the medium used; sand, pebbles or gravel for example.
Hydroponic farming; the future:
What was once the eccentric ideas of a microbiologist, supported by futuristic architects’ sketches, Hydroponic and vertical farming is now a part of our lives. Although not in the 30 floor high skyscraper vision Dickson Despommier initially had, it has taken the more modest form of stacked growing units, usually within a controlled environment such as a poly tunnel, green house or contained unit.
What does this mean for agriculture and meat production? As previously mentioned crop and meat production accounts for a large proportion of habitat loss and environmental damage, largely due to the vast amount of space and soil nutrients needed to rear cattle/ produce food. Growing food or animal feed hydroponically reduces the required space by 50% to produce the same amount of food as conventional farming methods, in fact hydroponic growing has many environmental benefits:
- It uses less than 10% of the water that would be used in traditional farming methods.
- 60% less fertiliser is needed as it does not settle or crystallise within soil.
- Reduced fossil fuel consumption: we no longer buy only seasonal fruit and vegetables, fruits such as tomatoes, oranges, strawberries that cannot be grown in the UK all year are imported. The ability to grow exotic or seasonal fruits and vegetables in a controlled hydroponic system reduces the need for import and therefore the fossil fuel consumption needed to transport goods.
- Reduced pesticide use: eliminating the use of soil reduces the risk of crop destruction from insects or disease therefore reducing the use of pesticides.
In order to reduce the environmental impacts food production has we must look at how we, as individuals can reduce our impact. Growing your own food is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, the use of pesticides, soil erosion, water pollution and habitat loss. Unfortunately, not everybody has the space to produce their own food, the great news is ….. Hydroponic systems can be set up within homes or within small garden spaces.
The initial set up for a hydroponic system can be expensive depending on the scale. More information on hydroponic systems can be found in the link below including where you can purchase small indoor units.
12 small indoor hydroponics system ideas:
Small complete hydroponic system from ikea:
Information on Hydroponic systems for animal feed production:
More information on Hydroponic food production:
An article by Kelsey Flynn-BSC Applied Animal Science