Agriculture was one of the major factors that contributed to the growth of the modern world. Cultivating food instead of having to hunt for and gather things to eat meant that humans were able to use their energy for the more diverse tasks that built modern society as we know it. But at what cost to the natural environment?
Large-scale, industrialised and intensive farming can have a negative environmental impact. But using sustainable farming methods can actually prevent and mitigate the current environmental problems we are facing. In this article, we’ll discuss how sustainable farming can benefit the environment.
Boosting soil fertility
Improving soil health is one of the key focus areas of sustainable farming practices, which uses methods such as no-tilling, cover cropping, crop rotation and the application of compost and other mineral and nutrient-balancing applications.
By improving the health of the soil, these practices increase the natural biodiversity of soil fauna and flora, and support the growth of more resilient crops.
|One teaspoon of healthy soil can contain up to 1 billion helpful bacteria. The concentration of helpful bacteria in intensively-farmed soils might drop to as little as one hundred.|
Growing crops adds oxygen to the atmosphere. During the process of photosynthesis, plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When soils are managed with minimum disturbance (i.e. have reached a healthy and sustainable state), soils also have a natural carbon carrying capacity.
You may be surprised to learn that carbon can even be reduced by a livestock farm. If the farm uses a rotational grazing system, this increases the biodiversity of native plants. Richer, more diverse pastures mean more organic material entering soils = healthier soils = a better capacity for the soil to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Isn’t it amazing how sustainable agriculture practices work together?
Preventing soil erosion
Soil loss is one of the biggest threats to environmental wellbeing, and its main contributors include intensive agriculture with monoculture fields. With sustainable farming methods, however, farmers have the ability to prevent and reverse this damage. With low soil disturbance and no-tillage practices along with earthworks that stabilise steep slopes, vegetation and crops, this can help to hold the soil together and prevent erosion.
Maintaining the water cycle
In sustainable agricultural systems, plants and trees help to retain and add water to underground aquifers. This process is further improved if that farmer combines plants of different sizes and evenly covers the soil to prevent soil loss, thereby improving soil structure and enabling rainwater infiltration.
Sustainable farming methods such as dry farming, no-till and planting of cover crops significantly reduce the need to irrigate. A higher water content in the soil means less irrigation needed to preserve crops during dry spells, which saves significant amounts of water in the long term.
Creating habitats and preserving ecosystems
Sustainable farming systems work in harmony with nature, thus creating diverse natural habitats that are home to indigenous flora and fauna. Keeping land for agricultural use also prevents the land from being developed and urbanised, maintaining a habitat for native species.
Sustainable farming – the holistic solution
As you can see, sustainable farming methods work together for a better environment. They also benefit human health, food security, economic viability and more.