What is sustainable agriculture?
Sustainable agriculture – what does the term bring to your mind? Ignoring modern technologies and going back to farming the olden way? Sustainable agriculture is about much more than that, and its reputation is ill-earned.
Sustainable agriculture involves combining modern farming methods and technologies with lessons drawn from the experiences of organic farmers and advocates of alternative farming types. It works towards making agriculture more profitable, more viable for the future, paves the way towards economic equity among farming communities, and minimising negative impacts on the environment. Essentially, it’s about producing resources in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the potential of future generations to do the same.
Some sustainable agricultural practices worth mentioning are:
Integrated pest management
Integrated pest management is a way of minimising the use of pesticides and employing various methods to control pest population. Integrated Pest Management involves biological control, chemical control, cultural control, and selective methods. Biological methods involve the use of natural predators, parasites or microbial pathogens to suppress pests, and it’s these methods that take centre-stage here, with the other methods providing just a supporting role. Knowledgeable and judicious use of multiple avenues of pest management produces high-quality yield with much less ecological degradation.
Crop rotation, or the planting of different kinds of crops in the same field at different times of the year, is a very helpful means of reducing the exploitation of soil resources. Crop and pasture rotation is a method already widely in use by farmers in Australia to create a semblance of biodiversity, mimicking the way nature replenishes itself. Crop rotation also controls weeds, pests, and conserves water.
Changing crops reduces the population of pests by disrupting their reproductive cycles and interrupting food supply. Alternating leguminous crops are wonderful in restoring soil nitrogen levels by reducing fertiliser use and allowing the soil to breathe. Planting crops that require less watering also helps in rejuvenating water supply to the land.
Cover crops are used to enhance the soil value of arable land. Cover crops, along with existing planted crops, protect the land from soil erosion due to wind and water run-off.
The roots of cover crops help in improving and maintaining soil structure, as well as reducing the effects of water erosion. Cover crops also curb the growth of weeds by minimising the available land and nutrients that would normally allow weeds to flourish.
Agroforestry is the combination of trees with crops and livestock to use the land effectively and sustain existing resources like soil and water. Though agroforestry may seem like a radical change, it is quite easy to start small – try planting trees on vulnerable stretches of land – that is, land which is exposed to higher wind velocity and increased water run-off.
Agroforestry is an encompassing term that covers three basic approaches – either trees and crops, trees and livestock, or trees, crops and livestock.
Effective management of landscapes
Agriculture tends to disrupt the existing local biodiversity of the land. Holistic agriculture, organic farming, and regenerative forms of farming all strive to minimise the ill-effects of farming, allowing native flora and fauna to thrive.
Optimum usage of non-wooded areas is a great example of effective management of available landscapes. Contour plowing, waterways, and terracing help in the effective use of landscapes without putting undue pressure on finite resources like water, soil, and soil nutrients. Less aggressive soil cultivation can also go a long way in creating sustainable landscapes.
At Kelly Engineering, we always strive to promote sustainable agricultural practices. It’s up to each of us to leave the earth a better place for future generations.