In general, farming is considered sustainable if it is done in a way that does not affect future farming capacity. The ideal goal of sustainable agriculture is to achieve environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and social sustainability. In other words, sustainable agriculture is rooted in land health, but also considers the social and economic aspects of agriculture, finding markets for products and employment management of labor.
Sustainable agriculture uses many different practices and technologies. This article is an explanation of 17 sustainable agricultural practices in the field.
Agroforestry is the practice of planting trees and shrubs between fields and pastures. Agroforestry increases the complexity of land structure and creates different habitat layers. Can reduce the need for chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, as well as reduce the need for irrigation. The addition of trees also protects soil and water by reducing land temperature and preventing runoff and erosion. Increased plant diversity makes the system less susceptible to disease. Trees and shrubs also contribute to soil health.
Many trees in agroforestry fix nitrogen, helping to improve nutrients in the soil. In addition, agroforestry intercropping can provide farmers with multiple sources of income.
Composting is the process of collecting and managing organic waste to break it down into fertilizer. There are many different methods of composting, including aerated composting and worm composting. The former uses microorganisms that break down organic matter by agitating the soil and introducing oxygen into the system; the latter uses worms to break down organic matter.
Composting helps reduce food waste while sustainably delivering nutrients back to the soil. High-quality compost also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. Save money on fertilizer by making your own compost. Even city dwellers can keep compost bins in their apartments, and they can use compost materials for their own use or take them to local farms and farmers markets to trade.
Conservation tillage is the reduction or elimination of tillage to promote soil health. Tillage, which is digging, stirring, and breaking up the soil, can reduce soil compaction and help prevent weeds from taking root. However, tillage also oxidizes the soil, accelerating the breakdown of organic matter and causing the loss of nutrients left over at harvest.
Conservation tillage improves soil health and increases yields. By improving soil health, conservation tillage also increases soil resilience under extreme weather conditions. Weed management when implementing conservation tillage can cause some difficulties, especially when herbicides are not used. Risks can be mitigated with careful planning in advance. The best method of conservation tillage depends on the land and works well with other sustainable farming methods, such as growing cover crops.
Cover crops are crops that are sown during the off-season after harvest to keep soil healthy. Cover crops will prevent soil erosion, and some of these cover crops also deliver nutrients to the soil by fixing nitrogen. Cover crops also loosen compacted soil during the planting season, contributing to long-term soil health and sustainability. Cover crops have other benefits, including hydration and weed control.
Cover crops can also reduce the need for plant protection materials such as pesticides and provide pasture-raised animals with feed for the winter. While some cover crops can be harvested and used, they are generally not used as cash crops. Choosing the best cover crops for your land depends on the specific conditions of the soil and climate.
Crop rotation refers to the replacement of new crops for planting every season, and the selection of several crops suitable for the local area. Well-planned crop rotations are best for soil health. Crop rotation helps with pest management because different crops attract different pests, so regular crop rotation can help relieve stress from any one kind of insect or disease. It's a natural way to reduce pest pressure, and each crop brings a different harvest to the soil and environment.
Forest farming is the intentional cultivation of edible, medicinal or decorative specialty crops in native or cultivated woodlands. Forest farming applies to the planting of trees for a purpose, such as timber, nuts, fruit, etc., providing producers with the opportunity to earn an income while keeping healthy forests intact.
Integrated pest management is a pest management system that combines chemical, biological and physical methods, such as the use of natural enemies of pests, crop rotation and complementary planting. The goal is to develop the most effective and productive pest management plan for the land.
While pesticides are bad for the environment, it's difficult for agriculture to get rid of pesticides entirely. Integrated pest management helps optimize the use of chemical inputs while maximizing crop yields.
Mulching protects the soil to help it retain moisture and promote microbial health processes. Mulching protects the soil, it also helps retain moisture and soil microbes. If it's organic mulch, it transports more organic matter back into the soil. Mulching also helps with weed management.
Animal health is improved by allowing livestock to graze on pastures, and animal manure is a great fertilizer that increases soil fertility.
Livestock are strategically moved to fresh paddocks, or divided pastures, to allow revegetation in previously grazed pastures.
Permaculture is a garden design and conservation philosophy that emphasizes working with natural ecosystems rather than solely for the production of food, energy, shelter or material goods.
To start permaculture, it is recommended to observe the land for a year, including which parts of the land get moisture and which areas get sun and shade, and then plant the crops that best fit the size of the land. Permaculture is no-till, other techniques include composting, planning, planting and watering, etc. Permaculture is using the idea of "different areas of use, different functions" to help manage the design and maintenance of land.
Precision agriculture integrates technologies such as drone remote sensing imaging and soil moisture sensors into agriculture, making the entire system more efficient. Precision agriculture helps farmers use fertilizer and water more wisely, reducing costs over time. Conserving inputs such as water and fertilizers also helps protect the environment.
Precision agriculture is primarily used on large farms, but may also become popular on smaller farms. Small farmers need to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of precision farming techniques, as they can be expensive for now and take time to learn how to use them effectively.
Unlike monoculture, polyculture systems raise several types of crops (and possibly some animals) at the same time. Plant diversity creates insect and soil microbial diversity, which often helps reduce pest problems. However, managing a polyculture system can be challenging, and polyculture is a very labor-intensive system.
Regenerative agriculture is an agricultural approach that works with natural systems to restore and improve land use, with a particular focus on soil health, soil remediation, soil structure, topsoil regeneration, biodiversity, and potentially climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration. Regenerative agriculture combines many other sustainable agricultural methods to restore land, including reducing tillage, promoting biodiversity and integrating livestock with crop production.
Over time, regenerative agriculture can improve the health and productivity of the land so that crops produced on the land will be healthier, more nutrient-dense, and more resilient to extreme weather events. Building healthy, resilient land can also save farmers money on agricultural inputs.
The concept of regenerative agriculture is evolving to include other aspects of sustainability. Sometimes the principles of regenerative agriculture also take into account social and economic sustainability. However, regenerative agriculture requires some capital costs, as well as considerable agricultural knowledge and advanced planning.
Rewilding is the practice of allowing natural processes and native vegetation to take over parts of the land. Wilderness is less artificially designed and embraces wilderness more fully than permaculture. The rewilding process improves the natural health of the land and provides more foraging opportunities. This process can be passive, or artificially induced by studying native plants and seeding in wildland transitions.
Rewilding is pretty cheap. Many of the retrofitted properties require no mechanical maintenance, which also helps reduce fossil fuel use.
Combining the principles of agroforestry, planting trees and shrubs in pastures, and raising livestock in pastures, where livestock can graze among the trees, creates a complete land management system. Although startup costs can be high, it has many benefits. Grazing reduces erosion and compacts the soil in a way that prevents runoff. Cooler in dappled sun, shade produces a higher quality feed. Diversifying your livestock's diet, which provides coolness in the summer, also has real benefits for the animals. Nut trees are particularly suitable for forest grazing and can provide high-quality feed for livestock.
Urban farming is the act of growing, growing and distributing food in and around cities. Producing food in urban areas can help reduce food crises and resource investment in transporting food. It shortens the distance between consumers and food and helps connect farmers with urban communities, as farmers can sell directly to consumers. Developing relationships with communities contributes to the social sustainability of farming operations.
How the farm contributes to and integrates into the urban community is important.