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What Is Intensive Farming?

What Is Intensive Farming?

This post is part of a series of Care2 Earth Day posts. Click here for more in this series.

The goal of most types of farming methods is the same: to be as productive as possible while making the best use of the land available. The difference between various types of farming is what the farmer considers “productive” and the specific techniques used to achieve that desired level of productivity.

One technique for doing this, intensive farming, really emphasizes high productivity, and high input of capital investment in technology and machinery. It involves growing high yield crops (like corn, grains, and soybeans) on a relatively small piece of land (or only part of the land), using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides to get rid of pests and competing crops, and using highly efficient and advanced machinery to cultivate, plant, and harvest. And, if the farm is big enough, intensive farming uses a large amount of labor to apply these tools.

This intensity has also been applied to the raising of livestock, with increasing numbers of animals kept indoors and in smaller spaces, in what have become known as feedlots or factory farms.

There is no doubt that intensive farming produces more food per acre, or more food from a smaller area, since surrounding land doesn’t need to be farmed and often remains untouched. It also produces food more cheaply than other farming methods.

However, while it might yield higher volume, and saves consumers money, it has negative environmental effects. It kills off beneficial insects and plants, it depletes the soil, effects surrounding area through runoff and polluted water systems, and by eliminating competing crops it decreases biodiversity, and often destroys the natural habitat for animals, insects, birds, etc.

Organic farming is more environmentally friendly, and doesn’t use chemical pesticides, relying instead on techniques such as crop rotation and the introduction of beneficial pests. But, it does not typically produce as much food, is much more labor intensive, and usually needs more land to grow on.

However, there are sustainable and organic techniques that can be applied to intensive farming and horticulture.

In horticulture, Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening mentions intensive gardening, which means using things like intercropping (i.e. growing several crops in the same bed/field), close spacing of crops, using raised beds, focusing on soil fertility and using succession planting. As they say, “applied skillfully, intensive growing methods can produce harvests 4-10 times greater than might be expected from a conventional garden.”

This is what sustainable farmers do, only on a larger scale than home gardeners.

This post is part of a series of Care2 Earth Day posts. Click here for more in this series.

Read more: Conscious Consumer, Environment, Food, Green, Nature & Wildlife, , ,

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Judi Gerber

Judi Gerber is a University of California Master Gardener with a certificate in Horticultural Therapy. She writes about sustainable farming, local foods, and organic gardening for multiple magazines. Her book Farming in Torrance and the South Bay was released in September 2008.


+ add your own
7:59PM PDT on Apr 5, 2012


1:28PM PDT on Apr 5, 2012

Just awful for Mother Earth and her animal children..l

8:06AM PDT on Apr 5, 2012

If you wish to witness true intensive farming, google Aquaponics, UVI model.

Now think vertical, with this approach we realize 5X the growth, without expanding the land use.

7:57PM PDT on Apr 4, 2012


7:24PM PDT on Apr 4, 2012

The chemical run-off of the intensive farms in Nebraska have have poisoned the underground aquifer so much so that it is advised that babies should not have their bottles made with the well water. There are so many cases of "Blue baby" syndrome-the nitrogen, from the fertilizer run-off, now in the well water, now in the baby, competes for the oxygen. Thereby suffocating the baby from the inside and the baby turns blue gasping for air.

11:25AM PDT on Apr 4, 2012

Bigger is NOT better. When quantity overshadows quality, we, the animals and the environement have a big problem.
Health (ours, the animals, the plants) becomes cumbersome, profit margins becomes the only objective and that opens the door the human kind's worst flaw : greed.

Intensive Organic farming could be interesting...but is that even viable ?

8:35AM PDT on Apr 4, 2012

What Is Intensive Farming? Awfully wrong!

8:24AM PDT on Apr 4, 2012

What Is Intensive Farming? A folly! It relies far too much on the industrial chemical industries and creates monolithic corporations like Monsanto who only care about their ignorant and selfish shareholders!

7:14AM PDT on Apr 4, 2012

Another testament that money is the root of all evil.

11:35PM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

Confusing article, organic way to go.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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