Everyone knows that there are some bad farming practices out there. Many big farming companies would rather genetically engineer their plants to grow faster than normal, and withstand gigantic doses of pesticides, than engage in environmentally safe alternatives. But when we look at the bright side of things, more and more small and mid-sized farmers are going eco-friendly. Instead of growing crops the easy way, they’re considering the future of the entire planet by employing sustainable agriculture.
What is sustainable agriculture?
Sustainable agriculture aims to work with natural processes to yield a large, healthy crop that doesn’t damage the environment. For example, instead of hosing down a crop of wheat with toxic chemicals to kill bugs, a farmer could manage their land to encourage bug-eating birds to move in. Nature can be a powerful force to aid farmers, and ignoring it is both perilous to the environment, and costly to the farmer (unlike Monsanto, those birds will help you out for free, plus they won’t poison nor the plants, nor you!) Sustainable agriculture promotes an understanding and cooperation with the environment that is better for everybody in the long run. The result is much more like what farming was before genetic engineering, and the invention of pesticides, herbicides, and GMO. And, of course, the food is much better for both humans and the Earth!
Sustainable agricultural practices
The variety of sustainable agriculture practices in existence is so rich that even non-farmers know about it. For example, crop rotation is one of the oldest sustainable practices known to farming! The main point of view of this concept is that certain plants need specific nutrients. Growing the same plant in the same place year after year can cause the soil to become depleted because the crop will take all of the nutrients out. But when the farmer alternates crops, the soil can recover. Common pests also tend to thrive when they can be sure that their favorite food will be in the same place year after year. Moving crops around confuses them and keeps their populations smaller.
Covering crops are another sustainable idea that helps prevent the farmer from having to leave fields bare between planting seasons. Bare fields aren’t good – nothing happens to the abandoned soil except erosion and weeds, and then the farmer has to start all over again the next year. But if a farmer plants oats in an area that has just been harvested, he can head off erosion and naturally crowd out plants that hinder his business. These cover crops can also be plowed under to enrich the soil, reducing the need for fertilizers and the incidence of harmful runoff.
Natural predators are great friends to farmers too, and tragically, Big Farming tends to eradicate them without even considering the possibility that they may actually be of assistance to the farmer. Birds, bats, snakes and ladybugs are always eager to dine on insects and smaller rodents that can destroy a farmer’s livelihood. Just a few bat houses can do wonders for a crop that’s suffering from airborne pests!
Sustainable farming practices are a great addition to mainstream organic growing techniques, and for people who make their living utilizing the soil. Even micro-farmers, who are already as efficient as possible with their tiny plots of land, may pick up a few tricks from sustainable agriculture institutions, like the Union of Concerned Scientists. The rest of us benefit from knowing about these revolutionary practices and demanding that the Big Farming companies stop using pesticides and start building birdhouses.