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AGRICULTURE and the EFFECTS on the ENVIRONMENTGianenzo SpagnuoloAgriculture takes up a massive amount of land. In 2018 it was recorded that across South Africa, 21% of all developed farming land is used for fields, while 31% is deemed mixed farming. The number of natural resources needed to manage and expand a farm successfully depends heavily on the type of crop cultivated. Agricultural effects on the environment also reduce natural resources through biodiversity loss. However, all is not lost. Large farming groups have recently adopted programs and teams to improve the overall health of historical vegetation. Natural resources are limited, and while alternatives to mass-produced commercial products used in farming could be introduced to the market, their higher production and overall costs would make purchasing them less desirable. Each type of agricultural crop will require a different setup for its success, and these differences in setups change their natural resource footprints. A widely utilised product in orchards and vineyard agriculture is irrigation piping, usually made from high durability plastics and PVC. When setting up a new field, large diameter PVC pipes are set up for the main irrigation supply line; these underground pipes can span kilometres from where a pump house is located. Once set up at the distribution site next to a field, smaller, flexible pipes are used for the irrigation and delivery of water to drippers or spray heads along crop rows.
Field planting on a large scale requires a different irrigation approach to cover more expansive, denser fields of crops. Traditionally large metal spray systems are used to pivot around a fixed central location; these long metal arms swing around and spray the crops from above.
The massive amounts of plastic used on farms tend to be stockpiled once replaced or entirely removed from old fields. These resources then lay in junk piles or are thrown into landfills. This leaves an everlasting stain on the landscape as recycling and repurposing the materials is costly and often unavailable. Regardless of the irrigation method used for each type of agriculture, a massive amount of water is consumed daily. In the summer months and growing seasons, fields are irrigated up to three times a day, and millions of litres of water are used each season.
In rainy seasons, storage dams along main waterways or secondary man-made dams are filled using water pumped from the river-filled dams or underground reservoirs. When these are depleted, the use of water from other rivers causes the water levels to drop, and underground reservoirs from boreholes to dry up. With the threats of climate change and reduced annual rainfall, our precious water resources are further limited due to unsustainable farming. Other notable resources commonly used in agriculture are petrol, diesel and oil for farm machinery. Modern tractors and large vehicles are more eco-conscious; however, they come with a hefty price tag. Farmers that desire their products to have a higher value in international markets are looking into projects that give their farms a more eco-conscious footprint. Large farms have rivers and natural pockets of vegetation from before they were cultivated. These pockets are being mapped, and work is being undertaken to remove invasive species, conserve the biodiversity native to the land, and create new natural pockets from old farming land. Care is also being taken to reduce water use and the health of waterways to limit toxins from farming activities leaching downstream.