Keen eyes will notice a major transformation in the way farming takes place across farms in the United States.
Industrial agriculture has been responsible for the bulk of food produced in the USA. Such a system was dominated by extensive farms growing the same crops season after season.
Heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides reduces soil fertility and quality, pollutes the air, and causes climate change. Industrial agriculture is designed to last as it degrades and squanders the resources it depends on.
The Definition of Sustainable Farming Practices
Things now changing for the better. Innovative farmers and scientists are coming up with safer and more sustainable farming practices. These newer agricultural methods are sustainable economically, environmentally, and socially.
The beauty of this system is the fact that it has room for all farm sizes, producing a wide range of foods, fibers, and fuels adapted to regional markets and local conditions.
We can define sustainable farming, or more broadly, sustainable agriculture, as a method of using farming practices considering the ecological cycles of the environment. The practice is sensitive toward microorganisms and their relationships with the environment at large.
A simpler definition would be a method of farming ecologically by putting in use and promoting methods and practices that are environmentally friendly, economically viable, and protect public health.
Unlike traditional agricultural methods, sustainable farming not only concentrates on the economic aspect of farming but also on the use of non-renewable factors in the process effectively and thoughtfully.
The outcome is the growth of a healthy and nutritious population while promoting the standard of living of the farmers themselves.
Facets of Sustainable Farming Practice
There are many facets but we will focus on environmental, economical, and social sustainability. We shall define each of these facets briefly.
This is characterized by good stewardship of the natural systems and resources that our farms depend on. The best examples of environmental sustainability include:
- Preventing soil erosion and building healthy soil
- Reducing water and air pollution
- Proper and efficient use of water
- Storing carbon on farms
- Enhancing biodiversity
- Promoting resilience to extreme weather
Economic and Social Sustainability
Economic and social sustainability means the system enables farms of all sizes to earn decent revenue and contribute to their local economies. Examples include:
- Supporting new-generation farmers
- Dealing fairly with its employees
- Creating access to healthy foods for all
- Promoting racial equity and justice
- Prioritizing communities and individuals over corporate interests
Just to show that sustainable farming practices are the future of agriculture in the US, a whole field of research is devoted to achieving these goals referred to as agroecology.
Agroecology is the science of managing farms as ecosystems. Agroecologists work with nature rather than against it to avoid damaging environmental impacts without sacrificing profitability and productivity.
By giving science priority to address the interconnectedness of the economic, environmental, and social factors, we can develop a genuinely sustainable system.
Sustainable Farming Practices
Decades of research, science, and practice have led to the development of various farming practices that have proven effective in achieving sustainability. The following are effective, especially when used in combination.
- Crop Rotation and Embracing Diversity
Cultivating a variety of crops has many benefits with the most important being healthier soil and improved pest and disease control.
Crop diversity practices, on the other hand, include intercropping and complex multilayer crop rotations. Intercropping means growing a mix of crops in the same area.
- Reducing tillage or eliminating it altogether
The traditional use of large and complex agricultural machinery for plowing (tillage) prepares the fields and eliminated weeds, however, it causes soil loss through erosion.
It is characterized by no-till or reduced-till methods which involve inserting seeds directly into the undisturbed soil which reduces erosion and improves soil health.
- Planting perennials and cover crops
You can plant cover crops such as rye, clover, or hairy vetch during off-season times when soils might otherwise be left bare. The perennial crops keep the soil covered and maintain the living roots in the ground all year round.
Both cover crops and perennials build and protect soil health by preventing erosion, keeping weeds in check, replenishing soil nutrients, and reducing the need for fertilizers and herbicides.
- Applying Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
Pests cause serious losses to farmers by interfering with plant health and therefore productivity. Traditional methods of pest control require the use of chemical pesticides. Sustainable farming practices include the use of integrated pest management (IPM).
IPM includes the use of mechanical and biological control methods which can be used systematically to keep pest populations under a tight leash. This minimizes the use of chemical pesticides.
It is important to reiterate the minimal use of chemical pesticides. Spraying a large farm with pesticides or fertilizers can be time-consuming. The best way to solve this, you can use a high-quality pull-behind sprayer that is efficient and eco-friendly thus reducing environmental impact.
- Integrated Livestock And Crop Farming
Traditional industrial agriculture keeps livestock and crop production separate. It means the livestock live far away from their food source. Similarly, the crops grow far away from organic fertilizers.
Research evidence indicates that integrating crop and livestock production is capable of making farms more efficient and profitable.
- Adopting Agroforestry Techniques
Agroforestry is the method of mixing shrubs and trees with crops in the same field. This way, shades from the plants can protect and shelter crops, animals as well as water sources. The trees and shrubs when mature can also widen the income source of the farmers.
However, the trees and shrubs mustn’t impact negatively plant growth and productivity. So, it is important to know the types of trees, the amount of shade they offer, the distribution of their root systems, and so on.
Sustainable farming practices are quickly gaining track and many farmers are joining the bandwagon for their efficiency, eco-friendliness, and productivity. Both small and large-scale farmers can benefit hugely from these innovative practices. There is much information out there on sustainable agricultural practices if you want to understand it even more.