The word sustainable has become very popular in recent years, and it is now used to describe a lot of things. In the article, we are going to take a quick look at practical sustainable farming techniques.
But first, What is Sustainable Farming? Simply put, sustainable farming which is also known as sustainable agriculture is the production of plant and animal products, including food, in a way that uses farming techniques that protect the environment, public health, communities, and the welfare of animals.
Sustainable Farming allows us to produce and enjoy healthy foods without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. The key to sustainable agriculture is finding the right balance between the need for food production and the preservation of environmental ecosystems.
Sustainable agriculture also promotes economic stability for farms and helps farmers to better their quality of life. Agriculture continues to be the biggest employer in the world, with 40% of the world’s population working in it.
Table of Contents
Practical Sustainable Farming Techniques
Here are other sustainable farming practices you can implement on your farm.
- Crop Rotation and Embracing Biodiversity
- Planting Cover Crops
- Reducing Traditional Plowing (Tillage)
- Organic Pest Management
- Integrating Livestock and Crops on Farms
- Better Water Management
- Applying Agroforestry Practices
- Taking Care of Every Part of the System
- Polyculture Farming
1. Crop Rotation and Embracing Biodiversity
Crop rotation is one of the most powerful and adequate techniques of sustainable farming. This is a technique where the farmer is seen to grow different crops each season instead of the same one over and over.
Planting various crops has many advantages, including enhanced soil health, pest control, and insect management. For example, in pest control, so many pests prefer specific crops. If the pests have a steady food supply, they can greatly increase their population size.
Intercropping (growing different crops in the same place) and complex multiyear crop rotations are examples of crop diversity approaches.
Also, when the same crop is grown in a field year after year, eventually the nutrients that the crop needs become depleted. Not only is this bad for the soil, but the crops eventually begin to falter, failing to find enough nutrients to grow to their full potential.
Crop rotations can be simple, with just a few plants rotated over and over. Or, they can be more complex, with many, many different crops and even livestock rotated into and out of each field.
2. Planting Cover Crops
In sustainable farming, cover crops are planted to slow soil erosion and enhance water availability. They can also help deal with pests or plant diseases while promoting biodiversity.
By planting cover crops, such as clover or oats, the farmer can achieve his goals of preventing soil erosion, suppressing the growth of weeds, and enhancing the quality of the soil. Cover crops such as clover, rye, or hairy vetch are planted during off-season times when soils might otherwise be left bare.
Some common cover crops include:
- Legumes such as red clover, vetch, peas, and beans.
- Cereals like rye, wheat, barley, and oats
- Broadleaf plants like buckwheat, mustards, and forage radishes
These cover crops replenish and revive soil nutrients, prevent soil erosion by improving soil health, control and keep weeds in check, and reduce the need for herbicides and synthetic fertilizers.
3. Reducing Traditional Plowing (Tillage)
In as much as tillage prepares fields for planting and removes weed problems. However, it can lead to soil loss and also the destruction of soil structure.
No-till or reduced-till methods, in which seeds are planted or inserted directly into undisturbed soil, can help reduce or/and prevent erosion and increase soil health.
This is a food production system with the intention and designed to reduce the waste of resources and create increased production efficiency. It is a design system that applies principles that are found in nature to the development of human settlements, allowing humanity to live in harmony with the natural world.
Permaculture is a bit harder to undertake than many other practices. Permaculture design techniques include:
- Herb spirals
- Hugelkultur garden beds
- Keyhole and mandala gardens
- Plant spirals
- Sheet mulching
- Growing grain without tillage
- Creating swales on contour to hold water high on the landscape.
Generally, permaculture is a holistic approach to the food supply, wherein farmers intentionally design their operations to balance ecosystems in a way that reflects those seen in nature.
It focuses on the use of perennial crops such as fruit trees, nut trees, and shrubs all together to function in a designed system that mimics how plants in a natural ecosystem would function.
Unlike most agricultural practices, permaculture seeks to balance the needs of humans, animals, plants, and the environment, all into one seamless system. It’s a favored practice for many homesteaders but far more difficult to manage on a commercial scale.
5. Organic Pest Management
Mechanical and biological controls and other measures can be used to control pest populations while reducing chemical pesticide usage.
For example, the bio-intensive Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This is an approach, which essentially relies on biological as opposed to chemical methods. It also emphasizes the importance of crop rotation to combat pest management.
Once a pest problem is identified, Integrated Pest Management will ensure that chemical solutions will only be used as a last resort. In applying integrated pest management (IPM), a range of methods, including mechanical and biological controls, can be applied systematically to keep pest populations under control while minimizing the use of chemical pesticides.
6. Integrating Livestock and Crops on Farms
Plant and animal production are typically kept separate in industrial agriculture, in this technique animals are kept far from the areas where their feed is produced, and crops growing far away from abundant manure fertilizers
A large and increasing evidence alludes that the integration of crop and animal products can improve farm efficiency, productivity, and profitability.
7. Better Water Management
Water management is implemented first through the selection of the right crops. Local crops that are more adaptable to the weather conditions of the region are selected. Crops that do not demand too much water must be chosen for dry areas.
Irrigation systems should be well planned; otherwise, other issues like river depletion, dry land, and soil degradation will develop.
8. Applying Agroforestry Practices
Agroforestry involves the combination of trees and shrubs amongst crops or grazing land. In agroforestry systems, trees create a favorable microclimate that maintains favorable temperature and soil humidity, while protecting crops from wind or heavy rain.
Trees have another important role. They stabilize soils, minimize nutrient runoff and improve soil structure. Agroforestry provides farmers with shade and protects plants, animals, and water resources while they potentially earn additional cash from fruit or nut crops as a result of the inclusivity of trees or shrubs.
Over time, agroforestry has become one of the powerful tools of farmers in dry regions with soils susceptible to desertification. Besides promoting the healthy growth of food crops and maintaining soil fertility, trees in this farming system provide wood and fruits as an additional source of income for farmers.
In these systems, possibilities for product diversification are many. Farmers can go even as far as growing a whole edible forest.
9. Taking Care of Every Part of the System
Uncultivated or less intensively farmed lands are seen as essential to sustainable agriculture. Natural vegetation beside streams or prairie plant strips inside or around crop fields, for instance, can help minimize erosion and reduce nutrient runoff. It also supports bees, and other pollinators, and enhances general biodiversity.
10. Polyculture Farming
This technique tries to replicate that of natural principles to achieve the best yields and it is similar to crop rotation. It involves growing multiple crop species in one area.
These species often complement each other and help produce a greater diversity of products at one plot while fully utilizing available resources.
High biodiversity makes the system more resilient to weather fluctuations, promotes a balanced diet, and applies natural mechanisms for maintaining soil fertility.
Drawing from our discussion using any of these techniques in your agricultural practices not only does it improve your yield, but it also gives you healthier produce as well as helps sustain and Conserve our environment.
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Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.