Conventional farming is typically tied to chemical farming. This is unfortunate because for the majority of human existence through time conventional farming has been the opposite of what is now practiced in western society.
In ancient times, conventional farming relied on sustainable practices. The ancients used the natural flooding of a plane, irrigation and organic fertilizer, dry farming techniques, and even the use of rudimentary aquaponic systems.
In modern times the term “conventional farming” is difficult to define as it is used to describe a wide range of agricultural practices. In general, it is any type of agriculture that requires high external energy inputs to achieve high yields and generally relies upon technological innovation and fossil fuels to supplement the required energy. Many also define the term conventional farming as being synonymous with non-organic.
Long-term sustainability of conventional farming as it is practiced by industrial farmers is unlikely. The reliance on chemical fertilizers and finite fossil fuels will eventually become very expensive and will no longer be a subsidy but a liability. Conventional farming will also start to produce lower yields, especially during drought conditions, because it does not focus on enhancing the health of the soil. The organic farming methods are better able to combat soil erosion and climatic stress by steadily improving the soil in organic matter, moisture, microbial activity and other soil quality indicators.
However, produce generated from conventional farming does not automatically mean that it is less environmentally friendly than other options. Even if food is produced in an organic manner and with sustainable agricultural practices but it needs to travel thousands of miles to reach the dinner table, then the environmental cost of transporting such food items eliminates any of the prior green benefits. As such, eating local food which has been conventionally farmed may be the green alternative in some situations.
Another controversial concept relating to greening conventional farming practices is the use of genetically modified (GM) crops. Generally, environmentalists are against GM crops but they can be part of sustainable agricultural practices on a conventional farm. Many GM crops facilitate no-till farming which conserves topsoil, reduces greenhouse-gas emissions, reduces the need for chemical pesticides and increases the success rate of natural pest predators.
In order to green the farming practices of conventional farming environmentalists should work with the industry rather than against it. Blended practices of organic and non-organic methods can produce sustainable industrial agriculture.