In recent years, sustainability has become an integral part of our world. As we learn more about the damaging effects we have on our environment, 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 maximizing 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.
Let’s talk about these components.
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Farms are businesses. For farmers, it is often their sole source of income. For a farm to be sustainable, it 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 practices 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.
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 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 successful 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 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
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.
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Durham Farm Connections is a volunteer organization passionate about educating the community about agriculture and all things food.