Thursday, January 3, 2013

Steps to Sustainable Agriculture


Sustainable agriculture and organic farming aim to use practices which are more ecological. Many people confused with both terms. Although they have the same objective, there are certain set of standards to differentiate them.  Below are some of the steps to farm with sustainable methods.

Understand that being certified organic doesn't guarantee sustainable practices. What an organic label means is that the food was grown or raised without the use of synthetic chemicals (but there are exceptions). Organic farming, especially when carried out on a large, industrial scale, can still damage the environment and threaten public health in a variety of ways: Ecosystems can still be ruined by widespread monoculture; pesticides can still be applied; soils can still be depleted of nutrients and organic matter; pollution can still be created; and exorbitant amounts of fossil fuels can still be spent (and wasted), all under an organic label 

Become familiar with how sustainable agriculture is defined: Farming a single area so that it produces food indefinitely. In order to move in this direction, a farm has to avoid irreversible changes to the land (for example, erosion), withdraw no resources from the environment that cannot be replenished (for example, not using more water than can be replaced regularly by rainfall), and produce enough income to remain a farm in face of worldwide farm consolidation and infrastructure development.

Consider the source. Where are your resources and inputs coming from? Think specifically about water, energy, soil amendments, and feed (if you have livestock). Also think about long-term, capital investments, such as structural building materials, tools, etc. Determine where your resources come from and whether you're taking more than can be replaced, either through natural processes or your own practices. Keep in mind that no farm is an island: complete self-sufficiency is not a requirement of sustainable agriculture. Long-term stability and productivity is. The more renewable and varied your resources are, the longer your farm will last.

Eliminate waste. There is no "away" to "throw" to. Everything is connected. The three "R"s apply here more than ever: reduce, reuse, recycle. It'll not only be more sustainable, but it's cheaper, too. Examine every bit of garbage and waste that your operation produces and ask "What else can I do with this?" If you can't do anything to do with it, try to think of ways someone else in the community can use it. Be creative.

Diversify ecologically. Choosing "polyculture" over "monoculture" results in less waste and often, reduced fossil fuel consumption. 

Diversify financially. An ecologically sustainable farming operation won't do anybody much good if it can't generate a profit and keep itself running. Unless you or someone else is willing and able to sponsor the farm with an off-farm day job or another external source of income, you're going to have to crunch the numbers until you're in the black.  

Find good, reliable labor. This is the most important and quite possibly your most difficult task. A reduced dependence on fossil fuels means an increased dependence on human labor, and not just physical, manual labor––you're going to need knowledgeable workers who understand the complexity of the system you're running and can enhance it with every decision they make. Find people who are committed to sustainable agriculture (not just dabbling in it) and who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty as they apply their minds.

Enjoy your life. Farming is hard work, but the most successful farmers know when to call it a day and circumvent burnout. Remember why you're farming and why, in particular, you're aiming for a sustainable operation. For most people, it's because they like knowing they're leaving land in better shape than they found it.

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