A study led by scientists from Cambridge University found that intensive farming might be the “least bad” option for “feeding the world while saving its species” – compared to less intensive systems like organic farming.
The researchers compared the environmental costs of growing four different food products (rice, wheat beef, and dairy) of more intensive and less intensive farming systems.
What they discovered was that, unlike most people believe, intensive agriculture that uses less land “may also produce fewer pollutants, cause less soil loss and consume less water.”
However, if high-yield farming isn’t simultaneously land-efficient, the benefits for the environment are lost. Because that’s where intensive farming has an edge over less intensive agriculture – which uses more land.
“Agriculture is the most significant cause of biodiversity loss on the planet,” according to study lead author Andrew Balmford, Professor of Conservation Science from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology. “Habitats are continuing to be cleared to make way for farmland, leaving ever less space for wildlife.”
“Our results suggest that high-yield farming could be harnessed to meet the growing demand for food without destroying more of the natural world. However, if we are to avert mass extinction it is vital that land-efficient agriculture is linked to more wilderness being spared the plough.”
Still, the authors note that available data is limited and more research on the environmental cost of different farming systems is needed.