Sustainable agriculture seeks to sustain farmers, resources and communities for future generations. Here are five methods of sustainable farming and its benefits.
What is Sustainable Agriculture?
Sustainable agriculture prioritizes good stewardship of farming land so we can meet current needs without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their own needs. Environmentally, economically and socially sustainable farming methods allow farmers to produce food and profit with minimal ecological damage. One particular environmental goal of sustainable agriculture is to use renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, and biofuels from agricultural waste.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 11 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, making it one of the top human activities contributing to air pollution. Since WWII, modernization of farming methods — including new technologies, increased chemical use, specialization, and government policies that favour maximizing production and reducing food prices — has allowed farms to produce more food at lower costs and at the expense of the environment. Such unsustainable farming methods include factoring farming and slash and burn agriculture.
Examples of Sustainable Agriculture Practices
There are many different methods of sustainable agriculture, and they all prioritize preserving the environment and protecting the livelihoods of farmers and local communities. Some notable examples include:
- Rotating crops. Planting a variety of crops encourages crop diversity because it improves soil quality and pest control.
- Integrating livestock and crops. Smart integration of crop and animal production can make farms more efficient and profitable.
- Planting cover crops. Cover crops such as clover, rye or hairy vetch are planted during off-season months to keep the soil covered year-round when it might otherwise be left bare. This helps prevent soil erosion and reduces the need for fertilizers and herbicides.
- Permaculture. Permaculture design techniques include growing grain without tillage, herb and plant spirals, and keyhole and mandala gardens. These efficient techniques help to reduce the waste of resources.
- Better water management. Crops that do not demand much water are grown in dry areas to reduce water usage in farming methods.
What Are the Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture?
The environmental, societal and economic benefits of sustainable agriculture are closely connected. Environmental benefits include the preservation of the natural environment and the prevention of pollution due largely due to farmers reducing their reliance on nonrenewable energy and decreasing their chemical use. Sustainable farming methods also mean that the whole farming system is more resilient to droughts, floods and other impacts of climate change.
One significant societal benefit of sustainable agriculture is a better quality of life for farmers and local communities resulting from improved working conditions and higher pay. The reduced use of chemicals in farming methods can also improve public health and boost social equality.
As sustainable agriculture improves social equality, economic and societal benefits intertwine. Research shows that sustainable agriculture plays an important role in transforming economies.
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