Past attempt – intensification of agriculture
Intensification of farming from the 1940s to the 1980s attempted to improve food security by increasing food production. To do this:
- higher yielding crops and animals were used, developed by breeding individuals that gave initial higher yields.
- use of monoculture (growigng just one crop over a large area)
- improved irrigation technology (e.g. groundwater pumping, electric sprinklers)
- increased use of chemicals such as fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides
- increased use of machinery (mechanisation) to sow, harvest, weed and spray crops
Intensification of farming increased food production. In the 1940s the UK imported 70% of its cereal crops but by 1980 this had decreased to 20%.
But, there are some negative outcomes of intensifying farming:
- monoculture crops could be wiped out by a single pest, drought or disease e.g. production of cereal crops dropped by about 500,000 tonnes because of drought in 1976.
- intensive methods have caused damage to the environment. Monoculture reduces biodiversity; chemicals used in fertilisers etc cause water and soil pollution, disrupting ecosystems; over-exploiting the land has also led to reduced soil fertility and increased soil erosion.
Present attempt – hydroponics
More recently the UK government has focussed on a more sustainable way of intensifying agriculture to increase food production and security and to reduce damage to the environment.
- Hydroponics is a way of growing plants without using soil; instead plants are grown in a nutrient solution.
- Thanet Earth in Kent uses hydroponics for the large-scale production of peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers (website). This facility produces over 10% of the UK’s supply.
- Not only can hydroponics increase food production but it also has many other benefits. Salad vegetables can be grown all year round in the UK meaning that we are less reliant on food imports. It also means that we will be less affected by global shortages or increases in price. Also, using hydroponics allows space that would not otherwise be used to be productive (e.g. underground tunnels). Many hydroponic schemes aim to be sustainable by recycling water and using natural predators to kills pests, reducing the need for chemical pesticides. They also create jobs; Thanet Earth employs 500 people.
- However, these are also some disadvantages. Hydroponic schemes are expensive to set up and run which increases the cost of the food produced; this may make this food unaffordable for some people. Some hydroponic facilities, including Thanet Earth, have been built in rural areas, destroying natural habitats in their construction. These schemes also require large amounts of energy to power the greenhouses and package and deliver the produce to shops.