The term sustainable has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years and is associated with many industries and practices. When it comes to farming, sustainable agriculture is an idea that has arguably been around since our ancestors began propagating seeds millennia ago.
In the most basic sense, sustainable agriculture is the stewardship of food production to allow these systems to remain in place for use by future generations.
Every person in every part of the food system has a role to play in creating a sustainable agricultural process. Not only are sustainable farming practices beneficial for the planet and our children, but they can also have economic benefits for farmers who choose to implement them.
1. Rotate Crops and Plant Cover Crops
Planting a variety of crops, either in the same area or over multiyear rotations, results in healthier soil, less disease and fewer weeds and pests. All these things will benefit a farmer's bottom line since they have a positive impact on crop yield, meaning more money in the grower's pocket at the end of the season.
Cover crops are planted offseason, when soil is otherwise bare, to avoid erosion and replenish nutrients. Though these crops will require resources, the ultimate benefits will be worth the extra effort.
2. Store Your Crops in Bulk Bags
A great way to save space is to store your harvest in affordable bulk bags, also known as flexible intermediate bulk containers (FIBCs). Bulk bags provide an efficient way to package and transport goods. They take up much less space than rigid containers and can hold up to 4,000 pounds.
When not in use, they are lightweight and collapsible, making them easy to store for next season. Plus, bulk bags can be recycled when they are no longer usable.
Most importantly, FIBCs are sanitary and hygienic and comply with strict FDA and Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) health standards for food safety.
3. Use Natural Pest Management
Farmers who consider the entire ecosystem of their farm, including the food chain and natural predator-prey relationships, can utilize biocontrol to get rid of pests. Certain helpful insect species, like ladybugs, lacewings and fly parasites, and animals, like bats and birds, serve as natural predators for crop-eating pests.
Use of chemical pesticides has ravaged populations of many of these helpful species, causing outbreaks of pests all over the world. Having a biodiverse farm and using natural pest management is a sustainable and cost-effective solution to pest control.
4. Go Organic
Farming is a business, and profit margins and bottom lines drive many decisions farmers make. One way to increase profit margins is to go organic. A recent global survey of organic farms found that, despite lower yields, organic agriculture is significantly more profitable than conventional agriculture.
The survey discovered that prices paid for organic foods were 29 to 32 percent more than prices paid for nonorganic crops.
Organic farms only comprise 1 percent of global cropland, but the high demand for organically grown foods means there's plenty of room for expansion.
Implementing sustainable agriculture, whether simple or complex, has an impact that goes beyond just the farm. It benefits the land and the farmer who cultivates it. It benefits the consumers who purchase and eat the food. It also benefits the planet by easing pressure on natural resources and the environment.
It can also boost the farmer's bottom line by increasing production, which in turn increases profitable farm income.
Consider the benefits of sustainable agriculture and do your part as a steward to keep production in place for generations to come.
About the author: Emily is a sustainability writer and avid gardener. You can read more of her work on her site, Conservation Folks, where she writes about helping tomorrow’s planet today.