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How to grow crops sustainably

In recent decades, farming has come to rely more and more on biotechnology, chemical pesticides and monocultural crops. However, the environmental costs of these practices have become painfully clear, land erosion, contaminated soil and water resources, loss of biodiversity, and deforestation. It’s time we turn to sustainable agriculture to protect the environment and our communities. By using sustainable farming we can produce plenty of healthy food without destroying future generations’ ability to do the same. Here are some of the best techniques for growing crops sustainably.

Crop rotation

Planting the same crop repeatedly in the exact same place may attract a wide array of pests, exhaust the nutrients in the soil, decreases yields, and increases soil erosion. Crop rotation, changing what is planted in a given location from season to season, replenishes the soil and prevents pests from becoming established. Even partial crop rotation methods like strip cropping help increase the health of the overall system.

Tilling and soil health

Soil can sequester a lot of carbon, and ploughing releases this carbon into the air, as well as disrupting micro-organisms and hastening soil erosion. As a result, low-till and no-till practices are becoming increasingly popular. Reducing tillage improves soil structure, increases organic matter and increases the amount of carbon and water soil can store.

Managing soil health is one of the most important elements in sustainable agriculture. It’s important to have the right soil structure, organic matter, insects, microbes and nutrients in order to keep crops healthy and resilient. Many farmers use fertilisers, manure, compost or even seaweed to restore depleted soil nutrients. Planting cover crops during off-seasons and using organic mulch are also good ways to improve soil health.

Mulching and groundcover

The practice of introducing a cover layer over unplanted soil is a great way to maintain soil temperature, retain moisture and control weeds without the need for herbicides. Even the most stubborn weeds that appear from time to time can be controlled by hand because their numbers are decreased. Organic mulch materials such as wood chips, grass clippings, and straw are good for improving nutrient retention and encouraging micro-organisms that help create healthy aerated soil.

When growing crops that need to have lots of room between plants, e.g. strawberries, a protective material on top of the soil such as straw or plastic sheeting keeps the crops from rotting too fast and prevents weeds from taking over.

Agroforestry and aquaponics

New and innovative techniques like agroforestry and aquaponics are becoming more and more popular.

Agroforestry, growing trees and shrubs amongst crops, helps create a favourable microclimate that helps maintain the right temperature, soil humidity and protect crops from heavy rain and wind. Trees also help stabilise the soil, minimise nutrient runoff, and improve soil structure.

Aquaponics involves growing aquatic animals and plants together. The animals’ waste material is used to nourish the plants, the process of which cleans the water ready to be recirculated back into the system to be re-used by the animals.

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