With the ecological crisis we’re facing, sustainable agriculture is of increasing importance. Sustainable farming requires using renewable resources as far as possible, but also, when this proves impossible or impractical, to use non-renewable resources as efficiently as possible.
Efficient farming is vital for food, especially so with our extensive population and problems of world hunger. Land is not being utilised as well as could be, especially in the regions were food shortage is at its worst.
Possibly the most important factors in sustainable agriculture are water and soil quality, as these are the factors most susceptible to human intervention. In our next article, we’ll look at water conservation, but for now, consider these tips for the sustainability of soil.
Erosion results in water waste, mineral loss, vegetation loss, and even mud slides as soil stability is compromised. There are several methods to reduce this.
- Excessive tillage inflicts long-term damage to soil, which can be avoided with no-till farming – a method of farming that defends soil against erosion, which if performed correctly can even increase profit;
- keyline design, which is the designing of land to maximise water use, protects soil from water runoff;
- growing wind breaks to hold soil;
- planting cover crops;
- reinvigorating soil with organic matter;
- And not using salt-laden chemical fertilisers.
Through mineral depletion, even if the land does not become unusable, there is still an issue of producing fewer yields, which cuts into profit.
- The depletion of minerals can be minimalized through crop rotation, where soil is given an opportunity to lie fallow and replenish itself.
- Soil organisms like earthworms and certain bacteria, which are necessary for maintaining soil quality, can be killed or their functioning impaired when exposed to chemical fertilisers and pesticides. This is only one of the reasons to consider one of the many less destructive alternates.
- Planting cover crops also keep soil nutrient-rich (in which case is known as green manure), as well as managing weeds, soil erosion, pests, biodiversity etc.
An integral part of soil fertility is nitrogen. There are several methods of keeping nitrogen a renewable resource.
- Crop waste and livestock manure can be recycled as fertiliser;
- legume crops like peanuts or alfalfa can be grown that form symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria;
- biochar, a form of charcoal, can be used to not only increase soil fertility, but also protect crops against soil-borne diseases;
- nitrogen can be produced through the Haber Process. Although currently the hydrogen needed for this is obtained from natural gas, electrolysis of water via solar cells or windmills would be a more sustainable option.
Some of these measures might require some extra cash up front, so you might want to weigh up the option of loans to finance your improvements. The investment would be worthwhile because not only would you be helping the environment, but you would also be improving the value of what your farming produces. Personal loans could pay themselves out if your sustainability measures were planned out and implemented prudently. Here is a great guide to help you strategise do so in a way that makes good business sense.
By promoting agricultural sustainability, crop yield could be regulated and maximised, brand reputation enhanced, a wider market gained by providing organically-grown products, and the re-saleability value of your land increased.