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The Causes of Agricultural Pollution

What goes around comes around – especially in the agriculture industry. Working the land and maximizing output year after year requires a calculated and delicate hand. When done incorrectly, it can cause trouble not only for your operation but also for the surrounding environment.

Agricultural pollution is contamination released into the environment as a byproduct of growing and raising livestock, food crops, animal feed and biofuel crops. The effects of pollution aren’t always immediately obvious, but poor habits can build up over time and cause devastating damage.

To protect the longevity of your farm and the environment in general, all farmers should be familiar with the main causes of agricultural pollution: fertilizers and pesticides.



About 40% of the land in the United States is used for agriculture. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), agricultural chemicals move into and through every component of the hydrologic system, including air, soil, soil water, streams, wetlands and groundwater. This means that proper chemical management is essential for responsible and sustainable farming.

Though many chemicals contribute to agriculture pollution, the most common source are nutrients released by humans into the environment, namely nitrogen and phosphorus. Examples include fertilizers, wastewater, automobile exhaust and natural animal waste. Although nitrogen-based fertilizers played a crucial role in the industrialization of agriculture, they can cause serious damage to water sources and the climate.

The Natural Resources Defense Council says that when fertilizer is applied at high volumes, excess nitrogen makes its way into the atmosphere and becomes either nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, or nitrogen oxide, which contributes to ground-level smog.

Animal waste is another form of fertilizer that, though its source is natural, can cause significant damage to your farmland. Though waste can’t be avoided, proper manure management benefits the producer and the rest of the ecosystem by improving water, soil and air quality.



Pesticides can also pose a threat to your operation and the environment when used incorrectly or in excess. Herbicides, insecticides and fungicides can contaminate vital sources of drinking water, causing sickness and death in both livestock and humans.

Additionally, pesticides can have damaging effects on the agricultural workers who handle them if mismanaged. Because there are many types of pesticides, there are also many side effects, ranging from irritation of the skin or eyes to development of certain types of cancer.

Each year, the USGS estimates that about a half-million tons of pesticides, 12 million tons of nitrogen and 4 million tons of phosphorus fertilizer are applied by farmers in the continental United States. However, by understanding the dangers these chemicals pose when used incorrectly, you can protect your operation from costly cleanup and also your community and environment.

For added protection and peace of mind, consider covering your operation with James Allen Insurance’s Farm Pollution Liability Policy.




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