Sustainable Agriculture: A Primer
There’s a secret ingredient in the fields of corn and amber waves of grain filling farm fields across the U.S. – and it’s one that more farmers, ranchers and landowners are utilizing in order to increase soil health, extend growing seasons and increase crop yields. That secret ingredient? Sustainable agriculture – a practice that incorporates innovative strategies to improve soil fertility, cut costs and give farmers a leg up in the current, ever-evolving market.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines sustainable agriculture as a way to “provide more profitable farm income, promote environmental stewardship, and enhance quality of life for farm families and communities.” While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, according to the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research andEducation (SARE), through adoption of strategies like cover crops, conservation tillage, ecological insect and weed management, crop diversity and rotational grazing, farmers and landowners can apply the sustainable ag recipe that fits their specific needs. Landowners who adopt these practices reduce problems that can result from conventional agricultural practices like erosion or water pollution. They also create sustained stewardship for the land and conservation enhancements that go beyond basic farmland and can help foster healthy wetlands, grasslands and other natural habitats for wildlife to use.And, while the “short-term gain is about the environment,” according to Kim Kroll, Associate Director of USDA’s SARE, because farmers are “reducing the amount of external inputs,” and reducing the overall impact on the environment, “as they change the environment on the farm, they’ll see economic gains.”