Let’s Talk About: Sustainable Agriculture

In recent years, sustainability has become an integral part of our world. As we learn more about the damaging effects we are having on our environment, the more we strive to do more to minimize the damage. Farmers are no exception to this.

The term “sustainability,” as it is applied to agriculture, describes a holistic, long-term approach to business on-farm that means maximising economic and environmental stability, equity and health of the farm, business and family. In the pursuit of sustainable agriculture, farmers must balance three interactive components;

  1. Economic Profitability
  2. Environmental Stewardship
  3. Social Responsibility

Let’s talk about these components.

Economic Profitability 

Farms are businesses. For farmers, it is often their sole source of income. For a farm to be sustainable, they must be economically viable. Many people believe that environmentally sustainable farming practices are much too expensive for farmers to implement, however this is not true. While implementing practice that improve the environmental sustainability of a farm may not translate into immediate economic profits, there will be positive economic impacts.

For example, if a farmer diversifies their crops, it can aid in the reduction of financial risk over time, as well as improving water quality and increasing environmental benefits, which will ultimately raise the value of the farm itself.

Environmental Stewardship 

In the agriculture industry, environmental stewardship is often what first comes to mind when people think of sustainability. Environmental stewardship uses ecologically sound practices that have a neutral or positive impact on the natural and non-renewable resources on-farm.  It can mean working towards reversing existing damage. For example, soil erosion or draining  the wetlands can help reverse existing damage.

Taking steps to prevent the future degradation of land and water resources can enhance environmental stewardship. This can be done through conservation practices such as;

  • Naturalizing riparian zones
  • Using smart cattle-watering practices
  • Establishing proper cover crops

An important factor in sucessful environmental stewardship is soil health.  To ensure that crops can be feed for a long period of time, farmers want to ensure that adequate organic matter, biological activity and nutrient balance in soil must be maintained. If this is done properly, the need for synthetic fertilizers can be reduced or even eliminated.

In order to enhance soil fertility and soil health, farmers utilize many techniques, such as;

  • Legumes in crop rotation
  • Using manure or compost instead of and/or in complement to synthetic fertilizers
  • Maintaining a working knowledge of the fertility of the field so as to properly manage them

Other stewardship concepts include;

  • Protecting water quality
  • Establishing year-round soil cover (residue or cover crop)
  • Integrating crop and animal systems to maximize efficiencies, nutrients and energy
  • Controlling invasive plants

Social Responsibility 

Social responsibility relates to the quality of life for everyone who interacts with the business; employees, customers, neighbours, local community members and the farmer.

Some indicators of social responsibility include;

  • Support for other local businesses and families within the community
  • A stable or increasing rural community population
  • Return of post-secondary school graduates to the community after graduation, to family farms or associated businesses

Sustainability in Practice: What are Farmers doing? 

  • Rotating crops to control pests and keep nutrients in the soil
  • Use conservation tillage to lower greenhouse gas emissions and control soil erosion
  • Investing in environmental improvements through environmental farm plans
  • Using good bugs to fight bad ones through integrated pest management
  • Planting native grasses to sustain wildlife populations
  • Rotational grazing

As farm practices continue to become more sustainable, farmers continue to gain a deeper understanding of the natural resources they steward and how this affects they’re business. Farmers within Durham Region, Ontario, Canada and throughout the world are committed to being sustainable while continuing to provide for the demands of the food supply chain.

Interested in learning more about agriculture? Get social with us! Visit our instagram @farmconnections & our facebook page @Durham Farm Connections  

Durham Farm Connections is a volunteer organization passionate about educating the community about agriculture and all things food. 

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