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Sustainable Agriculture - Best Agricultural Practices For Sustainable Food Production

Updated on September 6, 2011

One of the interesting things about a tough economy, is that it makes us examine so many areas of our lives that many of us so often take for granted.

Food production, for example...

We have always had farms and farmers - surely they will always be with us? ...except for the alarming trends in agriculture today. Fewer small farmers are able to make a go of the family farm of our parents days.

Perhaps because we are concerned about so many who do not know where their next meal will come from, or the one after that, we are beginning to look at current food production practices with an eye to how these critical systems function, and more importantly, how we can improve them.

Crop Rotation:

This is by no means a new concept in agricultural practices. It is one of the oldest and most effective control strategies, allowing the fields to be in almost continuous production, while controlling crop damagingpests.

The usual model for crop rotation covers a two to three year rotation, and may include a year of summer fallow (no cultivation) for each field at some point in the rotation.

Generally the rotation will begin with a leafy crop the first season, then vegetables, followed by root crops, legumes and then grains. Best practices dictate growing legumes to replenish the soil before grain crops, and the practice of green manure , that is, planting a deep border of rye around a field, which is then plowed under after the food crop is harvested, to add nutrients to the soil. Sometimes a whole field might be put to a green manure crop to renew the soil.

Some of the advantages of crop rotation include the prevention of soil depletion which is common in monoculture food production. Large fields of waving grain may look picturesque, but they require intensive applications of chemicals such as fertilizers and herbicides to keep down the weeds, as well as pest controls. Crop rotation helps reduce this reliance on chemical applications.

As you can see, though, this is a fairly labor intensive method of crop production, and a far cry from the commercial farming now carried out in much of North America’s “bread basket”.

Zero Tillage:

This refers to the practice of seeding directly into the undisturbed stubble of the last season’s crop. This allows for an immense savings to the farmer in terms of fuel and equipment use (and repairs), instead of requiring the expenditure of time, energy, and valuable resources tilling the field to ready it for the next crop.

Originally suggested to help prevent soil erosion due to over-cultivation, this practice has been slow to catch on in some areas. This is due in part to the problem of weed control, particularly in the use of some grain crops that have been altered to accept only a specific weed control agent, such as “Round-Up Ready” crops.

Studies under many weed management programs have shown however, that converting from conventional to zero tillage would require relatively minor changes to the overall weed management program to achieve the same results as with conventional tillage and weed control measures.

The benefit of switching to zero tillage for the appropriate crop and field conditions is the potential to reduce agriculture's impacts on the environment and lower energy and labor costs.

Encourage & Maintain Biodiversity:

One of the most important initiatives currently underway is the effort to maintain diversity in our food sources. In my own lifetime, the model for modern food production has changed from the family farm to huge, monoculture businesses sprawling across the landscape.

In my now-home province, once dotted with grain elevators from a variety of prairie grain Co-Operatives, the only signs visible across much of the south are centralized plants bearing the trade name of Agricorp, one of our current agricultural giants.

Tomatoes, now grown thick-skinned and picked grossly under-ripe for ease of harvest, shipping, and storage, only come from one or two strains. The carrots, straight, long and bright orange, in your local grocery chain may have only one or two parents, instead of the myriad varieties we once grew and prized for their different flavors and uses.

In breeding for the perfect looking and keeping carrot, the tomato that will better survive shipping, we are creating an artificial standardization, and losing many species in the meantime…and these are only a few examples of how our modern practices are depleting the biodiversity of our food crops.

If the engineered food crops on which we now depend ever experience a serious threat, one which we are unable to combat, we will lose whole categories of foods, resulting in wide spread famines. Some scientists predict global famines because of the loss of biodiversity.

To prevent this, many countries have established Food Grains and Genetic Material Banks to preserve samples of vanishing food crops. These seeds are revitalized on a regular basis to ensure viability by planting some of the preserved seeds and harvesting and preserving the new seeds that are produced.

Land Use:

In addition to seeking alternatives for chemical agents in controlling weeds and crop pests, and developing regionally targeted crops to give higher yields with less environmental stress, one of the thorniest issues facing all the stakeholders in any discussion of sustainable agriculture is the need to reassess local and regional policies for land usage.

I can think of quicker ways of committing political suicide, but none so sure as to institute a discussion of land use.

However, that is exactly what we must do...and soon.

Valuable lands are being stripped of their top-soil to make way for urban growth - for housing developments that are sorely needed. We will never be able to reclaim that land for the production of food. Family farms are being lost to huge conglomerates that deplete the very lands they use to feed us, while consuming resources at an astronomical rate.

It seems ironic that our ancestors came here for the rich farmlands, built towns to sustain all the folk drawn here by the land, and now we are burying those same lands under the cities that grew up because of them.

The country in which I live is rich in natural resources, yet we are turning those resources, our rich farmlands, into tracts of houses that will yield nothing for future generations except perhaps a real estate deal, and into sanitary landfills to bury the unsightly wastes we produce from those houses.

This problem is not limited to my home - it is become endemic in North America, and many other parts of the world, and we must begin to undertake these discussions while there is still arable land to protect.


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    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 5 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much, louromano!

    • louromano profile image

      louromano 5 years ago


    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      You are most welcome, eye say (clever name, btw) We eat a variety of potatoes, and among my favs are Sheppody, Yukon Gold, and Candy Cane, which has colorful red and white striped flesh.

    • eye say profile image

      eye say 6 years ago from Canada

      excellent information, thanks for sharing.

      fyi we don't eat russet potatoes anymore because they are wiping out the potato crop diversity world wide to grow russet potatoes for McDonald's - it is the only potato they will buy so farmer's that want to sell to McD's must grow russets...

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      Not sure which part is "not enough" for you, busque. As far as the land use issues go, I would prefer to DO rather than discuss, but getting everyone to the table would be a good first step.

    • profile image

      busque 6 years ago

      this is not enough...for me

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, MarkMAllen!

    • MarkMAllen15 profile image

      MarkMAllen15 6 years ago

      Great post.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much for stopping by to comment, Sun-Girl. I agree that we need to make good use of our natural world!

    • Sun-Girl profile image

      Sun-Girl 6 years ago from Nigeria

      Very informative hub you actually shared in here redelf. I really love this episode of your writing because am always in love with anything that concerns agriculture because i belief its a natural gift of nature in which if we make appropriate good of this natural gift will enjoy it for ever.

    • SteveMacken profile image

      SteveMacken 6 years ago from Galway, Ireland.


    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much for stopping by to comment, Ninja!

    • FOREX NINJA profile image

      FOREX NINJA 6 years ago

      Yeah.Very interesting and educating.I love reading articles presented on written on agricultural concept because it inspires me a lot.I love this too.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

      Greetings, Papa! I am going through a similar process with my writing ;) I like your eye to the long term view - will def check out that hub!

    • Papa Sez profile image

      Papa Sez 7 years ago from The Philippines to Canada

      Hi RedElf! Your hub caught my attention as I was checking out topics that I am passionate about to reinvigorate my writing here at hubpages- and sustainable agriculture is one of them. Our actions today should take into consideration not only the benefits we immediately reap but also what impact it would have on future generations.

      In line with sustainability, you might be interested in entomophagy as an alternative to eating meat! I have listed compelling reasons in my new hub. Please check it out!


      Papa Sez

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

      retirementvillages 2 months ago

      agriculture is a very good investment opportunity. growing your food isn't a big deal at all. not only you grow the healthiest and freshest fruits and vegetables but it is also the safest because you're the one who grew it. i just started organic farming with a very low capital and i am enjoying it so far!

      Thanks for commenting, retirement villages!

      ...and nice to meet you, too, yyn1221 - I stopped by your hubs, and you have some very interesting topics. Thanks for the visit!

    • yyn1221 profile image

      yyn1221 7 years ago from China

      Thanks, Enelle. Always great when you stop by and comment. The more of us who do that, the better off we'll all be. ..and when you do, look for some of the heritage varieties to keep them viable :)

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Well, you can take the teacher out of the classroom..., LOL. Thanks so much, create a page. Yes, I live in Alberta. We have it all, actually and we are great at making money from our resources but not very good at managing them with an eye to the future.

      I would prefer to not rely on GMBs, as they are a "desperate measure" at best, and natural selection must always have a role, but I'd rather save at least some than unnaturally lose whole strains.

      Thanks so much for your well-considered comments - much food for thought there.

      Yes, Patty's hub was great. I had a garden, but must now rely on other sources (farmers markets) as I don't even have a balcony now. Thanks so much, dohn.

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      With the rise in cost of living (Patty Inglish wrote a great hub on food stamps) I wonder if some of us are going to revert back to keeping a garden. In school, I read about "victory gardens." This will certainly kill two birds with one stone! Another gem, RedElf. Great job.

    • create a page profile image

      create a page 8 years ago from Maryland, USA

      I love this. It reminds me of when I used to teach Geography, my favorite subject. I take it you live in the praires region.

      I do not agree with the modern day concept of Genetic Material Banks. I guess I'm old-fashioned. Crop rotation, is a great asset, even in this day and age.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Thanks, Enelle. Always great when you stop by and comment. The more of us who do that, the better off we'll all be. ..and when you do, look for some of the heritage varieties to keep them viable :)

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      hear hear! Makes me want to start gardening and canning again something to think about for the near future ;) darn I'm hungry....