How Sustainable Agriculture Works
Agriculture plays a key role in the food industry, but constantly faces political, environmental, logistical, and economic challenges. These problems will be relevant today and in the future. Right now, millions of people around the world face hunger and food security issues, while the food industry is faced with a rapidly growing global population that will double the demand for its produce over the next few years. Sustainable agriculture is a key solution to all of this.
Sustainable agriculture is sometimes seen only as a type of climate-optimized agriculture. The growing demand for food will require a proportional increase in the demand for resources, mainly land, water and energy. FAO estimates that one-third of all food produced worldwide is wasted or lost. This means extreme inefficiency in the use of resources: natural, human, financial, and is therefore a huge manifestation of the inefficiency of food systems. Another side of the problem is the demands of the global consumer of food on the conditions of its production. Thus, ignoring the requirement of sustainability can become a barrier in foreign as well as domestic markets for the agrifood sector.
Food production and agriculture are interconnected. Therefore, sustainability in food production starts with sustainable agricultural practices when growing crops. These methods include intercropping, manuring, no-till farming, etc. But first things first.
What Is Sustainable Agriculture?
Sustainable agriculture implies farming that improves the long-term quality of the environment and the resource base on which agriculture depends, meets basic human needs for food and fiber, is economically viable, and improves the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.
The goals sustainable agriculture strives to meet are environmental protection, energy saving, pollution minimization, soil erosion prevention, food production costs reduction, biodiversity preservation, sustainable livestock production, economical benefits for farmers, and environmental friendliness.
Sustainable Agriculture Practices
Sustainable farming practices are those set at the most efficient use of natural resources with minimum harm to the environment. Such practices include crop rotation, cover crops, no-till or reduced-till systems, VRA, sustainable agroforestry practices, and more.
Crop rotation is the practice of planting different varieties of crops in a predetermined order every season. In particular, crop rotation reduces soil compaction thanks to different root systems and helps with pest control. It also minimizes soil depletion and avoids the use of unnecessary chemicals, ensuring organic matter and stimulated soil biota activity.
One of the ways to do crop rotation is intercropping, which implies growing two or more crop types close to each other in one field. There are different ways to fo it, depending on what way the crops are sown in the field, like strip cropping or row cropping. For example, strip cropping is a type of farming when different crops are grown in alternating strips at different levels. This method equally prevents soil erosion and can improve soil fertility through crop rotation. For example, a farmer can sow different crops in different strips of land rotationally.
Green manure, like any other organic fertilizer, has a multifaceted positive effect on soil properties and crop yields. First of all, it enriches the soil with organic matter and nitrogen. When green manure is incorporated, other nutrients also accumulate in the arable soil layer. They are extracted by the roots of green manure not only from the arable layer, but also from the deeper soil horizons.
Reduced or No-tillage
Unlike conventional plowing used in traditional agriculture, minimum or no-till farming prevents soil erosion caused by wind and water. The no-till method involves seeding directly into crop residues to cause the least disturbance to the soil and biota. No-till farming reduces soil compaction, reduces work time and fossil emissions, and promotes environmental and economic sustainability by the application of seed immediately after digging.
In arid areas with soils vulnerable to desertification, agroforestry practices like alley cropping have become one of the most effective tools for farmers. It entails growing trees and shrubs along with farmland and pastures for long-term, fruitful and diverse land use. Trees maintain a comfortable temperature, stabilize the soil and its moisture content, reduce nutrient runoff, and protect crops from high winds or heavy rain. In this method of farming, trees provide farmers with additional sources of income and opportunities for product diversification.
What Benefits Sustainable Agriculture Has To Offer
Most importantly, sustainable agriculture leads to food waste reduction, which means reduction of hunger globally. More so, it encourages the use of renewable energy sources which means natural resources preservation, lower pollution rates, and less harm to the environment overall.
Sustainable agriculture also enables implementation of an energy- and resource- efficient infrastructure for the industry through favoring systems that have the least negative impact on the environment.
Ultimately, sustainability in agriculture is a necessity of today. Only by applying sustainable farming practices it will be possible to ensure food demand satisfaction and environmental preservation while tackling the challenges of growing population and climate change.