Sustainable farming is widely considered to be the future of agriculture, thanks to responsible methods that protect the environment and the resources that farmers rely on. Nowadays, consumers are more attentive to the ways in which their food is produced. The question remains, however: what qualifies as sustainable? This is a matter of both public policy and scientific agreement among those who study within the field.
The first principle of sustainable farming is crop diversity. At this point, most for-profit farms are not diverse in terms of the types of crops they provide. Monoculture has its advantages in terms of profit and ease of scaling. However, it can also be detrimental to the soil and environment as a whole. Sustainable farms seek to depart from this approach, instead working with a variety of crops on the same piece of land. This means that the quality of crops and the effect they have on the soil work to mitigate one another.
Another important approach lies crop rotation. Rotation allows you to refresh the soil between harvests, cutting down on the depletion of soil resources. There are additional advantages to this approach, as you can grow a supplementary plant used for feed or to keep the soil from freezing over in harsh winters. Crop rotation also means that your soil will remain fertile for a longer period of time.
Tillage is another common practise in traditional farming, but can be damaging to soil long-term. Sustainable farms strive to work with little to no tillage at all, accomplished by choosing different types of plants and using cover crops to loosen the soil. Soil erosion will keep the soil more nutritious and increase water supply. It is an essential tool for resource preservation.
Sustainable farms are also integrating livestock into their farming practises. There are multiple benefits of this approach. Animals can be used to enrich the soil as opposed to artificial alternatives. At the same time, your farm is providing the food for your animals, cutting down on your overall costs. Additional upsides include the creation of two diverse sources of income: an important gain for any small business fighting to stay competitive in a tough industry such as farming.
This isn’t a very common practise, as it isn’t available to everyone. Still, it’s being slowly introduced into the sustainable faring community with great success. Agroforestry implements land covered by forest into your farming and cattle grazing plans. When done successfully, this practise helps to preserve and protect our forests, while allowing farmers to operate without deforesting the area in which they are based. Benefits to such an approach are immeasurable when it comes to environmental impact.
In the end, sustainable farms are akin to small ecosystems. This means one must consider how crops interact with all animals and plants that live on the farm land. Thinking about your farm in such broad terms will allow you to see how one part impacts the rest. It’s a responsible method of farming that will allow you to get the most out of your land for years to come.