Traditional farming is gradually shifting from conventional methods to incorporate environmentally conscious tactics that also produce safer products for consumers. However, there are still several parts of this practice that many farmers deem necessary. One of these is the continued use of fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals which have some of the most far-reaching damaging effects.

Chemical use doesn’t just affect the land it is used on; wind and water can spread them far and wide, creating a much larger radius outside of the farmland. The climate isn’t the only thing affected by rampant fertilizer use. It can also harm bees, algae, and people. Additionally, food grown in the proximity of herbicides is less safe for consumption and contains fewer nutrients than its chemical-free counterparts.

More than 50% of harvested produce on farms is grown using fertilizers. These chemicals are made up of components like methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and nitrogen, all of which make up a large percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Of course, greenhouse gases have proved to be detrimental to the environment and is one of the leading causes in the acceleration of climate change.[1]

Perhaps the next concern regarding this farming technique is the effects of fertilizers and pesticides on bee populations. Bees are critical to the balance of the ecosystem, and without them, the consequences would be catastrophic. Pesticides sprayed on plants can kill bees when they land on the plants or areas nearby. Chemicals directly sprayed on the ground can be absorbed by plants and move up into the stem, leaves, nectar, and pollen.[2]

If a bee comes into contact with fertilizer, it may immediately die before it returns to the hive. Or, if it lives, it can transport it back to the hive and contaminate the Queen and the rest of the colony, potentially wiping out the entire hive. Studies show that pesticides are linked to Colony Collapse Disorder, and there is a call for a ban or limit of chemicals to protect dwindling bee populations.[3]

Bees aren’t the only organism that suffers from contact with fertilizers. Seaweed and algae also are at risk due to soil runoff into waterways that carry it to larger bodies of water. Seaweed is used for food, industrial raw materials, and has numerous botanic, therapeutic, and cosmetic uses. It is used to add extra nutrition to animal feed and acts as a natural filter by removing heavy metals in water. There is growing concern that pollution from chemicals causes nutrient imbalances in the ecosystem.[4]

There is a tendency for farmers to overuse fertilizers and pesticides, but there are some farmers that are trying to cut down on the amount they spray on crops. This change is due in part to demand from consumers for safer-to-eat produce, a desire to help alleviate the environmental strain these chemicals cause, and developments in innovative farming methods that can be adopted and incorporated into traditional farming.