The Importance of Sustainable Agriculture
Agricultural practices have withstood the test of time. Small farms that once fed their families and communities grew to feed larger populations.
With international trade and a growing global population, the demand for larger food volumes has increased significantly. In fact, the projected world population on January 1, 2023, is over 7.9 billion, and the United Nations' median projection predicts that the world's population will reach approximately 8.5 billion by 2030. This has once again challenged our farms to produce more food with the same resources.
What Is Sustainable Agriculture?
Sustainable agriculture is an approach to farming that prioritizes preserving our natural resources, like soil and water, while still producing large quantiles of high quality food. This involves using our resources responsibly and incorporating natural biological cycles and controls into agricultural practices. Sustainable farming practices aim to maintain and improve soil fertility, reduce erosion, and preserve water resources. The goal of sustainable agriculture is to continue to utilize the same resources for generations to come.
Trends in Sustainable Agriculture
As many agriculturalists have begun adopting sustainable agriculture practices, we have seen some techniques become increasingly popular. Some common sustainable practices include:
Hydroponics and Aquaponics
Hydroponics and aquaponics are innovative methods of growing plants without soil. In hydroponics, crops are grown with their roots immersed in a nutrient-rich water solution or an inert medium. Aquaponics, on the other hand, combines hydroponic plants with aquatic animals like fish. The fish waste provides the necessary nutrients for the plants to grow, and the water gets recycled back into the system for the fish to use.
These systems are incredibly versatile, and can be used by anyone from small home growers to large-scale commercial operations.
Crop Rotation and Cover Crops
Farmers may choose to plant the same crops, on the same land year after year. This pulls the same nutrients from the soil, reducing its quality. It also increases the potential for pests and diseases that prefer a regular crop. To maintain productive single-crop farms, farmers must use fertilizers and pesticides.
Crop rotation is the practice of planting different crops sequentially in the same field. This helps return nutrients to the soil and interrupts disease and pest cycles, reducing or eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The variations in the root systems of different plants also increase soil quality.
Cover crops are planted in between growing seasons. Plants like wheat, rye, clover, and mustard are common options to “cover” the soil. These crops are never harvested. Instead, their entire purpose is to prevent soil erosion, improve soil health, and control weeds, pests, and diseases. Although planting cover crops requires a more significant initial investment than some farmers might be comfortable with, the practice pays off with natural pest and disease control, better water retention, greater plant diversity, and higher yields.
Natural Animal Growth
Allowing animals such as cattle to graze in their natural environment has a positive impact in several ways. Unlike animals in confined feeding operations, they are healthier and less stressed. The meat and milk they produce taste better and are of higher quality.
Grazing is also a better choice for the environment. Manure returns nutrients to the soil. The animals' hoof action helps aerate the soil allowing a diversity of plants to flourish. The grasses also grow more robust root systems.
Natural Pest Control
Natural pesticides are made from plants, microorganisms, or other natural things. They aren’t as toxic as synthetic chemicals, and they don’t stay in the environment as long. Two of the most popular are neem from the seed of the neem tree in Southeast Asia and pyrethrins derived from a species of chrysanthemums. However, these pesticides aren’t effective against all insects, and some are toxic to bees.
The use of organic pesticides requires a well-thought-out approach. The best product depends on the crop and the type of pest you are targeting. For example, diatomaceous earth is dangerous to bees but effective at killing crawling insects. When used correctly as a light dusting, it doesn’t pose any threat to bees.
Biological insecticides, such as Natural Guard Caterpillar Killer Spray, that kill caterpillars are nontoxic to humans, pets, or beneficial insects.
There are also natural animal repellents that help prevent larger pests from destroying crops.
Although organic pesticides are safer than synthetic ones, it doesn’t mean they can’t harm the environment. The ingredients used in agriculture are used in much higher volumes than if they were found in nature. Farmers can reduce the risks by using organic pesticides according to the instructions. Practices like crop rotation and using cover crops also help reduce the need for pesticides.
The Future of Sustainable Farming
The projected population growth and concerns over the planet's health make sustainable farming practices essential. Although some solutions are 100% beneficial, taking the right approach at the appropriate time will immediately have a huge impact. Fortunately, America is leading the way in sustainable agriculture practices today!
Shop Grange Co-op for High-Quality, Environmentally Friendly Products
Grange Co-op knows how much goes into raising your best crops and keeping your livestock healthy. We carry a range of organic pesticides to help you get the best possible results while minimizing environmental damage. Shop at your nearest Grange Co-op location or contact us online with any questions.