The future of farming depends greatly on the idea of using biodiversity to our advantage. Through sustainable agricultural practices, farmers can utilize practices that enrich the soil with less work and produce more edible crops.
Crops will be more diverse, instead of a single crop like corn. By combining different species of edible plants, and sometimes the use of several animals, the soil will not be over depleted of a single nutrient. Rotator crops would no longer be needed to fix the soil before planting again.
Ecological farming uses the very nature of a healthy ecosystem to help make it more self-sustaining without the use of harmful pesticides, chemicals or fertilizers.
Industrial agriculture = monoculture.
Small farms = biodiversity.
Small, organic farms like Rick Knoll's are able to eliminate their reliance on petrochemical-based fertilizers and pesticides. The results are fewer pollutants, less environmental degradation, and cleaner air. And by using cover cropping and other soil fertilization principles they are able to sequester carbon and keep topsoil — which is carbon heavy — from being lost into the atmosphere (the latter also contributes to climate change).
About Rick Knoll
Rick Knoll is an organic farmer who has been practicing biodynamic farming for 32 years. He owns Knoll Farms in Brentwood, Calif., and holds a Ph.D in Organic Chemistry from UC Irvine. He has also studied Agroecology at UC Santa Cruz. Learn more on the Knoll Farms website.
What is sustainable agriculture?
An ecological way of raising food, sustainable agriculture is healthier for animals and consumers alike. There is no harm to the environment as this type of farming replenishes the soil for future generations.
Think about composting as an example. Biological waste decays and further enhances soil nutrition. Plants grow using this nutrient dense soil better and provide healthier crops. After the crops die or are eaten, the leftovers are put into a compost bin and the decay creates the fertilizer that starts the process over again.
Sustainable agriculture creates a harmony between the food being grown, the animals being raised, and the people who consume both.
Three Components of Sustainable Agriculture
Farmers using sustainable agriculture practices typically think about sustainable agriculture as the combination of three main components; ecological, economical, and social/economical.
A sustainable farm does not degrade the environment over time, but has a neutral effect on it or enhances it.
Sustainable agriculture can sustain itself financially as well. It doesn't require the input of money into the system to keep it going.
Socially and Economically Equitable
The third criteria, social and economic equity, is a bit harder to define for a small farm or hobby farm. It seems to apply more to larger-scale farming enterprises. It can be thought of as making sure that you consider your goals and lifestyle choices when making decisions about your farm.
What is the Lexicon of Sustainability?
The Lexicon of Sustainability is a project dedicated to the power of words. More specifically the power of the word sustainability and what it means in relation to agricultural.
Words are powerful and can have a profound effect on people.
From the Lexicon of Sustainability website:
The Lexicon project is based on a simple premise: people can't be expected to live more sustainable lives if they don't even know the most basic terms and principles that define sustainability.
By illuminating the vocabulary of sustainable agriculture, and with it, the conversation about America's rapidly evolving food culture, the Lexicon project will educate, engage and activate people to pay closer attention to how they eat, what they buy, and their responsibilty for creating a healthier, safer food system in America.
What is biodiversity?
Biodiversity definition: To put it simply, biodiversity is the variety of life or species and their natural communities. It's the variety of all life on the planet.
Biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity where each species, no matter how small, all have an important role to play. – Anup Shah (GlobalIssues.org)
The healthiest ecosystems are naturally diverse with plants, animals and microogranisms working together harmoniously for the benefit of all.
Threats to Biodiversity
The main threats to biodiversity on the planet include global warming and deforestation. Put simply, we are the biggest threat. We are a rapidly growing species and taking over natural habitats across the globe.
Natural resources are limited and we are resourceful. However, we need to remember that those resources are needed by all the other living creatures who occupy the world.
In addition to our taking over of natural habitats by deforestation and city growth, humans are responsible for animal extinctions through hunting and introducing non-native species.
DID YOU KNOW? The human population has multiplied 6 times in the past century.
With the planet warming up many species are being forced to find a new habitat that is more suitable. Scientists fear that many of these species will not survive the change. And with one species going extinct, how will that affect the other species in the same habitat? For example, think about what happened to the Dodo bird.
As plants and animals become extinct it drastically changes the habitat for the other species. Biodiversity enables the various species to not only survive, but thrive.
Conclusion: Sustainable Agriculture
With government subsidies for corn and other monoculture crops, farmers have been forced into growing a single plant species. This creates a more vulnerable soil as nutrients are lost without being repleted.
Let's look at corn to understand why sustainable agriculture is the key to future farming. The worst soil depleting crop is corn. It's grown on over 400,000 farms in the United States, which produces almost half of the world's total 23 billion bushel corn crop. After years of growing only corn these farms have soil that is extremely low in nitrogen levels as corn needs a lot of it.
Instead of rotating crops to add some minerals back into the soil, sustainable agriculture would add back nutrients faster. It would stop the need of harmful chemical fertilizers trying to artificially put nitrogen back in the ground. And the food grown will be healthier for consumers.