Small farms vs. big farms : Which is better for the environment

Just like many other human activities, raising cattle for human consumption can be very bad for our planet. Cattle are a part of a group called ruminants. Ruminants produce large amounts of methane as part of their digestion cycle. Methane is a very strong greenhouse gas meaning even small amounts of it can be very detrimental to the current climate. Greenhouse gasses act to warm our atmosphere as they can trap and reradiate sun rays in our atmosphere. There are a few ways we can act to reduce the amount of methane being produced by cattle. By far the most obvious method is to reduce the amount of red meat we eat each year. Another way people have claimed to reduce emissions from cattle is to create smaller, more local farms for cattle instead of large industrial farms with thousands of head of cattle. In this article we will dive into this claim and see whether or not this is a good way to cut down emissions, or is large scale farming the least harmful for our planet and climate change.

We can start off by providing a bit more detail on the link between cows and methane. Ruminant livestock have a special digestive system that enables them to consume unusable plant materials as a food source. As a byproduct of this attribute, methane is produced during the digestive process and emitted into the atmosphere. Methane is a very strong greenhouse gas. In fact, methane is twenty five times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere compared to carbon Dioxide. This results in an increase in global climate change trending towards hotter temperatures. It is a big deal when even a small amount of methane gets into the atmosphere. In one year, a cow can produce about 220 pounds of methane.

Let’s get into some factors that can possibly mitigate or offset the fact that all cows produce methane both on smaller grass fed farms and large commercial farms. Smaller and more diversified farms are much less efficient. This leads to an increase in price which we will discuss later. But efficiency is also a key attribute to saving our environment. Larger scale farms can more easily invest in expensive labor saving machinery and technology which can cut the amount of waste being created. This is a point for large farms. Smaller farms bring more benefits to their local communities.

Local farming can create a sense of community and help maintain the fact that food, especially animal products, don’t just appear. Although this isn’t an environmentally based factor, it still contains merit as its social value can outweigh its climactic value. Another point often made in favor of smaller farms is the fact that big farms create big waste, and little farms create little waste. Without a doubt farming cattle will cause pollutants, but having many, smaller farms can allow pollutants to more easily diffuse into the soil and atmosphere when compared to large farms emitting thousands of tons of pollutants in a small area. Another large factor is the amount of farmland we need to grow feed for cattle. This is land that can be converted back to natural grassland and allow more cattle to roam freely as well as native wild animals to reclaim their land.

This leads us to conclude that more locally based farms can actually be better for our planet. This is great, local farms can really help to build community. But what does this mean for the price of meat? It’s no secret that local farms charge a lot more for products when compared to the big commercial companies. As Americans, many if not all of our decisions are financially driven to save us the most money. Will we spend more money to save our planet? Well that is the tough decision we are going to need to make. Grass fed beef can run the consumer as much as 4 dollars a pound! This is because it takes longer for grass fed beef to reach processing weight though this is more sustainable, it’s much more expensive. The average American eats about 55 pounds of red meat every year.

Overall smaller scale farms with cattle eating their natural intended diets can be beneficial to our planet. Though it’s going to cost us upfront at the grocery stores, it may be worth it in the grand scheme, paying more for our food may not be our biggest worry. Cutting down on the amount of red meat we eat is a great way to lower methane emissions from cattle. Looking at alternative diets such as kelp and seaweed integrated diets is another great idea starting to make headlines. Small farms are inefficient but are more likely to grow healthy foods and while large farms can sometimes be environmentally unfriendly, they raise large amounts of food at a very affordable price.

-Posted by Issac

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