How pollution affects crops

January 27, 2023

Air Pollution

The effect caused by polluted air is called the beret effect (from the English term “smog”) . This phenomenon is caused by thermal inversion: high pressures form an envelope, so that cold air remains in the lower layers, blocked by an upper layer with a higher temperature.

There is a very high risk of catching a viral infection because nitrogen dioxide  irritates the skin or mucous membranes of the human body. Irritation of lung tissues and mucous membranes is caused by tropospheric ozone, which, among other diseases and conditions, also causes headaches and chest pains. The Spanish Society of Allergists warns that the number of allergy sufferers is increasing significantly due to the explosive cocktail formed by pollen and pollution.

Impacts on agriculture due to air pollution

Air pollution can affect agriculture and damage fields. Plants are particularly sensitive to most airborne pollutants. For example, sulfur dioxide causes spots due to acid droplets that remain on the leaves along with the dew or fog.

Ironically, livestock and agriculture are the contributing factors to air pollution, in fact they are the main source of ammonia emissions. Livestock, fertilizers and biomass burning are responsible for 40% of these emissions. The deliberate burning of forest vegetation for deforestation also causes this pollution.

Acid Rain

The phenomenon known as acid rain is caused by large amounts of chemical compounds emitted by factories, homes, or cars that remain suspended in the air, carried away by rainwater, fog, or snow. Ammonia is the main cause of acid rain, which acidifies the soil, precipitates on trees and damages biodiversity.

In both developed and developing countries, ammonia emissions from agriculture and livestock production will continue to rise. Prospects suggest a 60% increase in ammonia emissions from animal feces.

Soil is an exhaustible resource, which means that its loss and degradation cannot be recovered within a human lifetime. Soils affect the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, our health and the health of all organisms on the planet. Without healthy soil, we could not produce our food. In fact, it is estimated that 95% of our food is produced directly or indirectly in the soil.

Healthy soils are key to food security and a sustainable future. They help support food production, mitigate and adapt to climate change, filter water, increase resilience to floods and droughts, and more. But an invisible threat threatens the soil and all it offers us.

Soil contamination sets off a chain reaction. It alters the biodiversity of the soil, reducing the organic matter it contains and its ability to act as a filter. Water stored in the soil and groundwater is also contaminated, causing an imbalance of its nutrients. Among the most common soil pollutants are heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, and emerging pollutants such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

Soil contamination is destructive to the environment and has consequences for all forms of life it affects. Unsustainable farming practices reduce the amount of organic matter in the soil and can contribute contaminants to the food chain. For example, contaminated soil can release contaminants into groundwater, which then accumulate in plant tissue and are passed on to grazing animals, birds, and eventually humans who eat the plants and animals. Contaminants in soil, groundwater, and the food chain can cause a variety of diseases and excessive mortality in the population, from short-term acute effects such as poisoning or diarrhea to long-term chronic ones such as cancer.

In addition to environmental impacts, soil contamination also has high economic costs due to reduced yields and crop quality. Preventing this pollution should be a priority worldwide. The fact that the vast majority of pollutants are the result of human activity means that we have a direct responsibility to make the changes necessary to ensure a less polluted and safer future.

Soils should be recognized and valued for their productive capacity as well as their contribution to food security and the maintenance of essential ecosystem services. Here are a few reasons why soil contamination should not be underestimated:

1. Soil pollution affects all areas. The food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, our health and the health of all the organisms on the planet depend on healthy soil. The nutrient content of plant tissues is directly related to the nutrient content of the soil and its ability to exchange nutrients and water with the roots of that plant.

2. Soil contamination is invisible . Today, one-third of our soils are moderately to severely degraded due to erosion, loss of organic carbon, salinity, compaction, acidification and chemical contamination. It takes about 1,000 years to form 1 cm of topsoil, which means we cannot produce more soil in our lifetime. The soil we see is all that is available. But soils face even more pressure from pollution. The current rate of land degradation threatens the ability of future generations to meet their most basic needs.

3. Soil contamination affects its filtering capacity . Soils act as a filter and buffer for pollutants. But soil’s ability to handle this pressure is limited. If the soil’s ability to protect us is exceeded, pollutants will (and do) make their way into other elements of the environment, such as our food chain.

4. Soil contamination affects food security by reducing yields and quality Safe, nutritious, quality food can only be produced if our soils remain healthy. If not, we can’t produce enough food to achieve the goal of #ZeroHunger.

5. Soil contamination can be the result of poor agricultural practices . Unsustainable farming practices reduce soil organic matter, reducing its ability to break down organic pollutants. This increases the risk of contaminants entering the environment. In many countries, intensive agricultural production has depleted soils, jeopardizing our ability to sustain production in these areas in the future. Thus, sustainable agricultural production practices have become imperative to reverse the trend of soil degradation and ensure current and future food security around the world.

6. Soil contamination can endanger our health . Much of the antibiotics commonly used in agriculture and health care are released into the environment after being excreted from the organism into which they have been injected. These antibiotics can penetrate the soil and spread in the environment. This leads to the formation of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria, which reduces the effectiveness of antibiotics. Each year about 700,000 deaths are attributed to antimicrobial-resistant bacteria. By 2050, if this problem is not addressed, antimicrobial resistance will kill more people than cancer and cost more than the current size of the world economy.

The world’s population is projected to exceed 9 billion people by 2050, and our current and future food security will depend on our ability to increase yields and food quality using the soils currently available to us. Its pollution negatively affects us all, and it has been identified as one of the major threats to soil functions around the world.

We must be aware of the causes of soil contamination in order to find and implement solutions. Protecting and preserving the soil begins with ourselves. Choosing eco-friendly foods, properly recycling hazardous waste such as batteries, composting at home to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills, or handling antibiotic waste more responsibly are just a few examples of how we can be part of the solution. On a larger scale, we need to promote sustainable farming practices in our communities.

Fertilizers, manure, and pesticides are major causes of water pollution.

Contamination of groundwater by agrochemical products and residues is a major problem in virtually all developed countries and increasingly in many developing countries.

Fertilizer pollution occurs when fertilizers are used in larger quantities than they can be absorbed by crops or when they are washed off the soil surface by water or wind before they can be absorbed. Excess nitrogen and phosphate can seep into groundwater or be washed into waterways. This nutrient overload causes eutrophication of lakes, reservoirs, and ponds and leads to algal blooms that suppress other aquatic plants and animals.

Crop projections for 2030 suggest a lower increase in nitrogen fertilizer use than in the past. If yields can be increased, the increase in total fertilizer use between 1997-1999 and 2030 could be as low as 37 percent. But current use in many developing countries is highly inefficient. In China, the world’s largest consumer of nitrogen fertilizer, nearly half of the nitrogen applied is lost through volatilization and another 5 to 10 percent is lost through seepage.

Insecticides, herbicides and fungicides are also widely used in many countries, both developed and developing, contaminating freshwater with carcinogens and other poisons that affect humans and many forms of wildlife. Pesticides also reduce biodiversity by destroying weeds and insects, and with them the species that birds and other animals feed on.

Pesticide use has increased significantly over the past 35 years, reaching rates of 4 to 5.4 percent in some regions. Insecticide use declined in the 1990s, both in developed countries such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom and in some developing countries such as India. In contrast, herbicide use continued to increase in most countries.

As concerns about pollution and biodiversity loss increase, pesticide use may grow more slowly in the future than in the past.

In developed countries, its use is increasingly restricted by laws and taxes. In addition, its use will be constrained by the growing demand for organic crops produced without added chemical products. The use of “smart” pesticides, resistant crop varieties, and ecological pest control methods will likely increase in the future.

Agriculture as a cause of air pollution

Agriculture is also a source of air pollution. It is a major anthropogenic source of ammonia. Livestock production accounts for about 40 percent of global emissions, mineral fertilizers for 16 percent, and burning biomass and crop residues for about 18 percent.