According to a consumer survey, 78% of Americans reported that sustainable farming is important. Moreover, 60% of the survey’s respondents reported a willingness to pay more for sustainably sourced and produced goods.
Agriculture is at the heart of sustainability farming and goods production. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) defines sustainable agriculture/farming as farming methods that meet the existing society’s need for food and textile while preserving the environment for future generations to meet similar needs.
Sustainable agriculture is gaining popularity due to its inherent benefits and the growing demand for sustainably-produced goods. So, below are ways farmers can accelerate the transition to sustainable agriculture.
Sustainable Farming Overview
Agriculture or farming dates back approximately 12000 years ago when early man transitioned from hunting and gathering to crop cultivation and animal rearing. The transition entailed selecting seeds with desirable characteristics to cultivate, facilitating crop improvement.
However, a literature review on plants and natural selection highlights that seed selection in crop cultivation contributes to a homogenous gene pull among most food crops. Consequently, the homogeneous gene pool led to the development of conventional agriculture, requiring synthetic chemicals like fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides and overall intensive input utilization.
Agriculture covers 50% of the planet’s habitable land, making conventional agriculture a significant carbon emission contributor. However, sustainable farming can help minimize carbon emissions and manage climate change to preserve arable land for future generations.
Besides decarbonization, sustainable agricultural practices ensure social and economic equity. Social equity in sustainable farming entails a fair distribution of farming resources, particularly for historically disadvantaged populations. On the other hand, economic equity entails maintaining reasonable profits for farmers regardless of their farm size.
So, below are tips agriculture stakeholders can take to facilitate a seamless transition to sustainable farming.
1. Embracing Regenerative Agriculture
Regenerative agriculture primarily applies to farmland soil. Soil regeneration is an ecological practice entailing improving soil health by adopting practices that improve the soil’s organic composition, nutrient density, and water retention and drainage properties, improving its quality.
Additionally, regenerative agriculture facilitates carbon sequestration or absorption and storage of atmospheric carbon, promoting near-net-positive environmental impact. Regenerative agriculture techniques enhance soil resilience, support higher farming levels, and mitigate climate change effects.
Below is an overview of simple regenerative agriculture techniques that can accelerate the transition from conventional to sustainable farming.
Tillage is a conventional farming technique that entails agitating the soil via mechanical means in preparation for planting. On the other hand, turning the soil reduces crop susceptibility to weeds and pests.
Frequent tillage disrupts soil structure, accelerating soil erosion. In contrast, no-tillage farming preserves soil composition and carbon-sequestering properties.
Animal grazing applies external pressure on the soil’s structure, causing soil compaction and destroying the soil structure’s integrity. Compacted soils take longer to regenerate naturally because the external pressure reduces their air pockets, reducing porosity. However, rotational grazing unifies grazing pressure, improves ground cover, increases soil organic matter composition, and mitigates soil compaction effects.
Cover crops promote natural soil regeneration by reducing soil erosion, nutrient leaching and facilitating organic matter build-up. Agroforestry, or growing trees and shrubs alongside farmed crops, has similar soil regeneration benefits as cover cropping.
As stated, the seed selection process over the centuries significantly reduced the cultivation crop and livestock gene pool. Consequently, the seeds available for conventional farming lack the traits necessary to adapt to climate change without heavy chemical input, decreasing the pressure on farmlands.
However, adopting biotechnology approaches like genetic engineering helps develop adaptable seeds by selecting gene sequences further up the tree of life.
So, what is the difference between biotechnology and conventional breeding methods? Traditional /classic breeding methods entail selecting parent plants or livestock with desirable traits. However, the change does not account for the parent’s gene composition, meaning results could be random.
In contrast, biotechnology entails targeted DNA sequence alteration to produce seeds or livestock with the desirable DNA. Moreover, custom gene synthesis allows the insertion of novel genes that do not occur naturally to create seeds that germinate into hardier plants.
3. Digital Technologies And Innovations
Digital agriculture or precision farming techniques leverage information technology to help farmers make data-driven decisions. Such techniques utilize satellites, infrared light, drones, and more to facilitate foot-by-foot farming, whereby farmers tend to individual crop input requirements rather than using equal inputs on the entire farm.
The topography and risk of disease weeds and pests vary significantly even within a single land lot. Therefore, precision farming allows for target solutions for problem areas rather than blanket solutions for the entire farm, limiting input use while maximizing yield and ensuring profit for farmers.
Adopting Integrated Pest Management
Integrated pest management (IPM) is a proactive approach that entails monitoring the environment and its capacity to support pests. The strategy aims to adopt techniques that eliminate a target pest long-term while inflicting minimal harm to the environment and non-targeted organisms.
The tactic’s proactive element helps farmers identify potentially harmful pests and take action before they cause damage. Implementable IPM strategies include biological control (using living organisms to control pests), habit manipulation (using natural and artificial signals to interfere with breeding), and planting pest-resistant seed varieties.
Education And Training
Education is crucial in facilitating a successful transition from conventional to sustainable agriculture. Training on sustainable agriculture helps impart skills, expand knowledge, and shape the attitudes necessary for strategy implementation.
A behavioral study among farmers established extension training as an invaluable tool for sustainability training transfer systems or adaptation.
Sustainable agriculture is the future of farming and an effective tool in fighting climate change and facilitating food security. The easy-implementation strategies above should help farmers globally shift from conventional to sustainable agriculture.