The challenges that farmers face are many; amidst an ever-growing world population, climate uncertainty, and rising costs in nearly every facet of life - the average farmer must continue to provide for their family while growing food for all. Add on the pressure of adopting more sustainable practices for the sake of the environment, and it becomes clear that farmers could use support in this tall task.
Conventional agriculture has functioned for centuries within the confines of a system that required it to keep growing steadily - but as the world population boomed in the 1950s and beyond, this once steady system had to keep up, forced to adopt practices that put production parallel to profits. The goal was to grow the highest possible yield of consumable crops to keep up with demand - and just like anything that requires unrealistic results, farmers had to resort to extreme measures.
The introduction of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides changed the face of agriculture - farmers were now able to increase their yields beyond their previous capabilities - pushing their crops to perform, wiping out any potential pests and diseases with what seemed like cure-all products. But as we know, every action has a consequence - sometimes one that is not seen for years. As the population kept growing, so did health concerns - the world saw a massive rise in cancers and other illnesses - animal and insect populations began to decline, slowly at first and then much quicker. While food production remained high, the food itself was beginning to decline in nutritional value - the more farmers used these chemical inputs, the more they had to rely on them to produce anything, as the soil was becoming depleted and devoid of nutrients and diverse microbiology.
The problem is not agriculture or the farmers themselves - but a system that prioritizes profit while applying pressure to increase production. While it is in a farmer’s best interest to care for the land they tend to, it can be challenging to break away from the cycles of convention despite the apparent need. There needs to be an increased focus on providing farmers with information about how sustainability can achieve and exceed the growing potential of agriculture operations. We must cultivate a deep understanding that sustainably managed agricultural operations restore and preserve critical habitats. They also contribute to improved soil health, positively impacting and protecting watersheds and water quality.
So does switching to more sustainable practices mean lessening your environmental impact at the expense of production and profits? It can be quite the opposite. Engaging in sustainable farming practices can increase yields in the long run, with the benefit of maintaining good stewardship of natural systems. Farmers have the upper hand in this situation, as they can implement these necessary changes without losing profit - while reducing their fertilizer and chemical input consumption. Over time, this can potentially lessen the demand for these inputs and create an industry-wide shift toward more sustainable solutions.
The first steps toward sustainability
You can rest assured that the changes do not necessarily need to represent a complete overhaul of all your current farming practices - while regenerative farming is an ideal concept in theory, it can look different for everyone. Focusing on one realistic change at a time, and staying consistent in your new practices, can be the perfect way to ease into a more sustainable approach without sacrificing your bottom line.
An excellent place to start would be doing a soil analysis to assess the contents of the soil itself and understand what other sustainable practices can be implemented to optimize its health. Knowing the nutrient content of the soil and pH levels can lead to more informed decisions on how to better balance these elements for optimal growth. Using natural soil amendments to build up the health of the soil instead of pushing it beyond its limitations with synthetics - will ensure a long-lasting positive impact that continues to improve over time.
In particular, amendments that focus on the natural compounds already found in the soil will help to build soil structure and increase the biodiversity of soil microbes. As the microbes increase, so do the symbiotic relationships between organisms and root systems - leading to increased plant resistance to stress, foliage, and photosynthesis.
Switching to more natural soil conditioners will have an impact beyond just the soil itself. This increase in soil structure will also help protect waterways from pollution caused by runoff and leaching - holding the water in the soil where plant roots can take it up as needed. This will reduce the amount of water a crop needs, improving the efficiency of your irrigation efforts.
Simple practices with significant impact
Agricultural practices such as monoculture and tillage have been proven to decrease soil health over time - when the soil constantly cycles the same set of nutrients, this can lead to an imbalance. Disturbing the soil with frequent tilling displaces and destroys microbes and organic matter - adding to the imbalance and often encouraging less desirable microbes to multiply - leading to increased pest problems, increased weeds, and crop disease.
Farmers can add intercropping, cover crops, and succession planting to their growing arsenal of sustainable practices with some strategic planning. Maintaining living roots in the soil for as long as possible has many benefits to the soil, as it keeps the microbes thriving and balances soil biodiversity. This minimizes soil compaction, provides necessary nitrogen to plant roots, and can assist in pest control. Keeping the fields covered instead of bare will also allow for carbon sequestration, significantly decrease soil erosion, and add important organic matter to the soil to stimulate more microbial activity.
Consumers have a growing demand to know where their food is coming from and how it is grown. Implementing more intentional farming practices that satisfy the consumers’ concerns while lessening environmental impact can grow your business by establishing more trust in your farm. Consumers will know they are getting quality produce while supporting a business that cares about improving agricultural practices for future generations. Learning as much as possible about regenerative practices will give you the confidence to adopt the ones that work best on your farm.
Relying on nature and trusting its process
While the agriculture industry has relied heavily on chemical inputs for the last century, we must understand that before these inputs were used, it was necessary to trust nature and its processes. When an ecosystem is given a chance to work in a balanced way, it will thrive without human interference. In nature, there are predators and prey - and this is a key concept of an Integrated Pest Management system that can benefit your farm tremendously in your pursuit of sustainability.
While in the process of restoring balance to a system, challenges can arise - but if we remain consistent in facing those challenges with sustainability in mind, the restoration of balance can happen more quickly and with better results than anticipated.
If you have relied on pesticides in the past, switching to an IPM system may seem daunting - and may even trigger some visits from unwanted pests at first - but knowing the tools that you have at your disposal can be a vital part of rewriting the script on what sustainability can do for you. There is a good reason that biologicals and beneficial bugs have risen in popularity over the last few years: they bring impressive results and their potential negative impact is non-existent.
Best of all, sustainability efforts are cumulative - meaning that the more efforts you implement, the greater the results over time. As your soil health increases from using high-quality natural soil amendments, plant health and vigor will also increase. Healthier plants are less attractive to destructive pests. So your integrated pest management efforts will help diminish the initial problem and then be reinforced by other efforts, making them unlikely to happen again. You will benefit from reduced overhead costs by eliminating your need for fertilizers or other chemical inputs.
These efforts also work together to help balance the ecosystem on your farm - which promotes biodiversity in the surrounding region. Higher yields of healthier crops result in feeding healthier produce both locally and as exports, positively impacting the agriculture system as a whole and bringing in higher profits all around.
Measured Results from Growers Like You
Taking a look at the results that other growers have already achieved can give you the confidence to make the switch to natural soil amendments on your farm. Humic Land™ boasts some impressive results if you want to increase yields, reduce fertilizer use, or establish healthier root systems in your crop for better nutrient uptake.
Our team can also offer recommendations for IPM solutions, soil analysis, and other ways to holistically target any problem areas of your farm. We offer trials that can be done in limited areas of your fields so that you can see the results for yourself before adopting these same practices throughout your whole farm.
Please do not hesitate to contact us for more information and to get started on your path to successful sustainability.