In California, which accounts for 11 percent of US agricultural output, mostly grown in large-scale industrial farms, drought is a regular feature of the climate.
Due to factors including agricultural and urban water use and changing weather patterns from climate change, these cycles have become more extreme in recent years; one study found that the state’s 2011 to 2017 drought was the most intense in 1200 years.
Agriculture was no longer under the limitations of naturally occurring nitrogen fixing, and crop yields exploded — as did the global population.
The increase in world population since 1913 has closely tracked the huge increase in fertilizer production; by one estimate, a world without nitrogen fertilizer could sustain only 3.5 billion people, rather than the nearly 10 billion projected by 2050.
Dead zones have become common in water bodies across the US.
In 2015, the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico – created by runoff from manure and other agricultural fertilizer in the Mississippi floodplain – was more than 5,000 square miles: this is the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.Pesticides and seeds genetically engineered to work with pesticides have been promised as solutions to these farming challenges but have instead led to the evolution of herbicide-resistant weeds, declines in beneficial insects, long-term farmer debt and many more problems.Agriculture accounts for up to 90 percent of all freshwater use, most of which is for crop production.As temperatures warm and weather patterns change, water for agriculture will be increasingly less available, which will have repercussions on crop yield and food security.A 2015 USDA study projects that by 2060 in nearly all regions of the country, there will be significantly reduced water availability for agriculture, primarily as a result of climate change, but also due to current use patterns.However, center-pivot irrigation and similar methods encourage use of large quantities of water, draining underground aquifers faster than ever before.The Ogallala Aquifer, which stretches from Wyoming and South Dakota to the Texas panhandle and supports nearly one fifth of US wheat, corn and beef cattle, has already run dry in some places and is reduced by as much as 60 percent in others.In truth, most crops in the US, from apples to zucchini, are grown with industrialized practices, treated more as outdoor factories than as part of an ecosystem.The industrialization of agriculture artificially separates two aspects of a naturally closed-loop and renewable cycle: nature’s reciprocal and balanced system in which crops feed animals and animal wastes fertilize crops.Industrial agriculture, with its reliance on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation, has come at a cost to the environment and local communities.And its promise to "feed the world" has largely failed.