Given the current challenging economic outlook, some might assume that farmers will abandon conservation efforts and focus exclusively on their finances. However, many of the financial best practices cited by farmers and encouraged by farm financial advisers are the very same principles that can help farmers continue to improve environmental outcomes.
Before there was a general understanding of the benefits of native vegetation and the risks of invasive plants — introduced species that outcompete other species, spread quickly and alter ecosystems — USDA had a hand in introducing foreign plants that proved aggressive. Long ago, the agency promoted kudzu for erosion control. Now it works to control invasive species and does not provide assistance for planting them. It also actively promotes the use of native species through some programs.
Vineyards across the U.S. and Italy are being devastated by incurable diseases caused by bacteria hitching a ride on leafhoppers — a diverse group of plant-piercing insects closely related to cicadas. Now, thanks to some innovative research, scientists are using a technique called vibrational mating disruption to interrupt male-leafhopper courtship songs, preventing them from finding mates and slowing population growth.
Dynamic cropping is an ecologically-based management strategy that optimizes production through the use of flexible crop sequencing. Here are the stories of four farmers who have found success with dynamic cropping systems.
Returning manure to the soil that produced it can be a sustainable way of restoring soil organic matter. Too often the organic matter of many farms is pushed through the bottleneck of intensive livestock production to be applied just a few farms. Robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Can we produce enough manure to serve as a major source of soil nutrients? Agronomist Andrew McGuire shows the limitations due to entropy make it impossible for manure to make up more than a portion of nutrient replenishment.
With climate change contributing to increasing pest pressures, integrated pest management provides farmers with sustainable options.
The policy team from the National Farmer’s Union looks at the use of prescribed grazing, silvopasture, and rotational grazing as climate smart strategies.
For chefs and cooks wanting to support sustainable agriculture, no better place to start than this 13 Bean Soup recipe hearty, refined, and restaurant ready.
Breeding nitrogen-efficient plants could boost crop productivity and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions while reducing fertilizer use.
Debunking too often tends to be a team sport and just because it’s inevitable, doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. In food and farm issues, only biotech drives more debunking than the Organic vs Conventional debate. When you are responding to misinformation the “other” side has already defined the terms of the debate and it’s hard to bust out of those frames. Often that means the big picture gets lost.
NutrientStar, which assesses fertilizer management products and tools using field trials and in-depth scientific reviews, was a game changer for farmers. Prior to the launch of the program last year, there was no expert review program to help farmers determine what tools would work as advertised.
The only downside of the program was its limited utility. Farmers had no easy way to extrapolate results from the relatively few number of field trials performed thus far to their own locations. Now, a new geospatial feature called the Technology Extrapolation Domain (TED) framework will make NutrientStar accessible to tens of thousands of additional farmers across the Corn Belt.
I like to think of it as NutrientStar on steroids.
The Environmental Defense Funds genuinely believes that conservation practices are good for farmers and landowners’ bottom lines. But faith isn’t a strong selling point. They need help putting together the data and the evidence. This is a call to farmers to share their data on conservation practices and how they affect the bottom line.
The possibility of a win-win for farmers and the environment is a driving force for the soil health movement. It is a management philosophy centered around four simple principles: reduce or eliminate tillage, keep plant residues on the soil surface, keep living roots in the ground, and maximize diversity of plants and animals.
With shifting political winds and poor commodity prices, farmers may now be willing to consider new ways of generating income by adopting environmentally friendly practices, such as planting cover crops, extending crop rotations or eliminating tillage. Many farmers are already using these practices on a small scale. To combat climate change and stabilize incomes, farmers should look to policy to tackle both in tandem.
There are certain requirements that agriculture must meet to produce food and to keep producing food. We should view them as a hierarchy, such that if the top requirement is not attained, the lower requirements do not mean much, but once the top requirement has been met, we can move to the next one, provided that how we do it does not threaten any of the requirements above it. Each component is required, but not sufficient; all of them are needed.
If nature has not been optimized by any process that we know of, and therefore consists of mostly random mixes of species dictated primarily by natural disturbances, then there is no reason to “follow nature’s lead.” But if we don’t, what are we left with?
We are left with an agriculture based on human ingenuity.
A new paper shows that when organic farmers employ the conservation agriculture techniques of diverse rotations and growing in polycultures, we see the gap closes to around 9 percent. However, when conventional farmers also employ the same conservation techniques that boost organic yields, the gap widens to over 20 percent. So, why didn’t the authors promote this finding?
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