For farmers seeking to grow their businesses and invest in long-term success, there’s an opportunity to embrace sustainable agriculture in a way that both drives farm profits and improves environmental impact. Sustainable farming has the potential to increase yield, decrease costs, and improve the long-term productive potential of a farm.
Sustainability is a term that is often tossed around without a clear definition or is sometimes confused with organic farming. Let’s take a closer look at what sustainable farming looks like and how more growers are successfully introducing it to their farms.
Sustainability comes from the philosophy of how you steward your land and design your operations. By focusing on areas such as soil health, nutrient management and water stewardship, you can not only improve the sustainability of your operation and preserve your resources for decades of future farming, but also potentially benefit your bottom line.
Becoming more sustainable doesn’t always require major capital investments or a sea change in how farms operate. In just a few small steps, you can start to embrace more sustainable growing practices and roll them out over time.
Sustainable agriculture is the act of fulfilling current food and textile needs while enabling future generations to provide for themselves in the same way. As the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources department notes, “Every person involved in the food system—growers, food processors, distributors, retailers, consumers, and waste managers—can play a role in ensuring a sustainable agricultural system.”
Growers play just one role in these systems, but there are plenty of benefits they can enjoy as they implement sustainable practices:
Getting started with sustainable agriculture can be easy. Begin by embracing these simple strategies in your growing operation:
Healthy land is an essential natural resource that impacts both your livelihood and ability to feed a growing global population. As you work your fields, it’s important to think about preventing nutrient loss and even adding nutrients needed to help improve the soil’s productivity—and overall health for Mother Nature.
Nutrient management is an essential part of your ongoing farm design and planning. University of Georgia’s Sustainable Agriculture notes that there are four key steps to nutrient management in sustainable agriculture, including:
Adding nitrogen is a key element of farming for certain crops, such as corn. When used in connection with solutions such as nitrogen stabilizers, it can help establish a more stable baseline nutrient profile for soil. Ultimately, nitrogen stabilizers help prevent nitrogen loss through leaching into groundwater and reduce denitrification that releases greenhouse gasses.
Innovative strategies often bring together a variety of solutions for nutrient management. Fifth-generation Iowa farmer Zack Smith has been implementing sustainable practices for years—including tillage and planting cover crops. Recently, he took his efforts to the next level and built an autonomous mobile barn that supports a strategy he calls “stock cropping.”
In his model, livestock and crops work together symbiotically while creating a virtuous cycle that improves soil health by naturally replenishing nutrients and ultimately achieving higher yields. The barn is designed to move approximately 10 feet each day along a crop line and contains space for livestock and catching rainwater.
As you make more conscious choices over time, your farm’s nutrient health will improve. Ultimately, that can increase yields today and preserve the soil integrity for the future.
Nutrient management is just one component of a healthy farm that’s part of a broader conversation around soil health. Healthy soil, after all, is the foundation of productive, sustainable agriculture. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture notes, “Managing for soil health allows producers to work with the land—not against—to reduce erosion, maximize water infiltration, improve nutrient cycling, save money on inputs, and ultimately improve the resiliency of their working land.”
While nutrient management and soil health are inextricably linked, growers can also use other strategies and practices to support long-term soil health:
Water stewardship is also a critical element of successful sustainable farming. The World Bank notes that irrigated agriculture represents 20% of the total cultivated land and contributes 40% of the total food produced worldwide.
Stewarding water has two goals. The first is ensuring that you have the water needed to grow your crops. The second is protecting the broader water ecosystem your farm intersects with.
There are many ways to steward water, including:
Embracing sustainable farming can have a significant impact on your growing operation, from preserving soil for future crops to improving the bottom line. As you plan for next season, consider exploring whether small changes in your nutrient management strategies or soil tillage practices, investing in soil health, or focusing on water stewardship could be your next step toward a more sustainable farm.
Not only will you see rewards to your yield and profits, but you’ll be laying the foundation for long-term growth and land that’s ready to continue producing for generations to come.
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Sustainability matters more than ever for farmers, for the land, in our communities, and in our operations. Corteva Agriscience is committed to advancing sustainable agriculture to enrich lives and our planet for generations to come.See our commitment