A Quick Guide to Sustainable Agriculture

in Overall Health by

Farming is important for providing food for the plant’s population, but big agriculture and even some smaller farms use unhealthy methods that are bad for the environment and public health. However, as more people are beginning to realize the negative impact of traditional farming methods, companies and individuals alike are turning to sustainable agricultural practices, which are better for the environment, better for public health, and are economically viable.

The Biggest Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture

There are many benefits to sustainable agriculture, but the following are some of the most important. First, it limits the expansion of farmland, leaving more of the planet’s natural habitats intact. This is because new science allows farmers to grow a wider variety of crops on their existing farmland. In 2012, biotech crops saved more than 15 hectares of land that would have been used for additional soybeans, corn, cotton, and canola.

Plant biotechnology also reduces greenhouse gases, which are known to contribute to climate change and the dangerous effects it has on the planet. With the help of herbicide-tolerant crops, no-till farming is a possibility. Without tilling, the soil remains undisturbed, which keeps carbon in the ground and prevents it from releasing into the atmosphere. In 2013, no-till farming reduced carbon emissions by 28 billion kilograms. This is the same as taking more than 12 million cars off the road.

No-till farming has another benefit as well, and that is protecting the soil. Every year, farming and the subsequent erosion contributes to the loss of about 50,000 square kilometers of soil. By using sustainable agriculture practices, farmers have been able to reduce erosion by nearly 90 percent.

Finally, sustainable farming practices conserve water, one of Earth’s most important–and most at risk–resources. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Africa will have more than 480 million people living without enough water by 2025. Plant scientists are trying to remedy the problem by creating plants with drought-tolerant traits so that food can still grow in the affected areas. Most notably, Water-Efficient Maize for Africa is working on ways to double crop yields with the help of plant biotechnology.

How to Get Started in Sustainable Farming

If you own your own farmland, you can help the environment by employing sustainable farming methods yourself. Start by planning for crop rotation. This method has actually been in practice for thousands of years and helps to keep soil healthy. Rotation involves picking your crops in a specific pattern that allows the new ones to replenish the soil with necessary nutrients the previous cycle removed. For example, if you plant grains, you would plant row crops afterward to balance the soil.

In addition to crop rotation, it is very important to use renewable energy sources such as solar power, hydro-power, or wind power. Some farmers use solar panels to keep pumps, heaters, ad electric fences running. If you live near a river, look into using it as a source of hydroelectric power for running farm machinery. You can even purchase geothermal heat pumps to use the Earth’s heat as a source of power.

Sustainable agriculture requires you to give up traditional, chemical-laden pest control products, but you do have other options. Many farmers are turning to natural pest eliminators such as bats, birds, and insects. You can purchase ladybugs and beetles from many farming supply shops and release them near your crops. They will repay you by eating aphids, mites, pest flies, and other pests. You may also consider purchasing birds or bats and building shelter for them to keep them near your crops.

When it’s time to remove weeds from your garden, do so manually. Machines can’t always reach weeds that can choke out your crops, and even when they can, they sometimes damage the plants. This is usually only suitable for small farms, but if you have a larger one and can afford to hire the help, it would be beneficial for a larger one as well.

Finally, for sustainable agriculture to be useful, you must use better water management techniques. The first step in this process is choosing the right crops to plant. Look for local crops that can adapt to the weather in your region and do not need a lot of water if you live in a dry area. If you use irrigation systems, be sure you plan them well enough that you don’t deplete local rivers or degrade soil. If your local ordinances allow for it, consider harvesting and using rainwater for your crops.

How to Help if You Don’t Own a Farm

Even if you don’t own a farm, you can help the environment by creating a tiny garden in your kitchen or backyard. Not only would you be helping the environment, but planting a small garden could even save you money. Look for seeds from companies such as Advanta. CEO Jai Shroff aims to make this seed development company a leader in those working toward a better environment.

Whether you own a farm of your own or simply aim to purchase products from sustainable farmers, it is important to do your part to use sustainable agriculture. Doing so creates a better environment so your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren can live on a healthy planet.

Image Credits: Flickr