Editorial Feature

An Introduction to Sustainable Farming

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Sustainable farming is term used to describe a collection of productive and efficient agricultural practices that can be used to produce safe and high-quality products which will positively impact farmers, animals, local communities and the environment.

Issues with Current Advanced Farming Techniques

Genetically Modified (GM) Crops

GM technology uses genetic engineering in order to modify the DNA of plants. Some GM products make use of this technique in order to make them resistant to pesticides. However, this trait is then transferred to weeds and insects, which can then only be destroyed using strong chemicals. Recent studies have revealed that certain GM products can cause allergies and cancer in humans.

Cross-pollination between GM crops and nearby non-GM plants can also cause serious ecological problems. GM crops pose a strong threat to food diversity due to their dominance.

Hybrid Crops

Hybrid crops are produced by cross-pollinating two inbred plants. Hybrid crops are currently up to five times more expensive than crops grown using conventional methods as they take longer to develop and are not easy to reproduce. When conditions are not conducive for growth, hybrid crops tend to suffer more than regular plants. Hybrid crops then to have lower yields with less vitality than their conventional counterparts.

Plant Propagation

Plant propagation uses cells taken from a parent plant in order to create a number of new plants. This causes a loss of diversity, which is essential in order to provide disease resistance. Plants require nutrient-rich soil with germ-free, warm and humid environmental conditions in order for this method to be successful.

Grafting

Grafting uses tissues from one plant which are then inserted into another plant so that two sets of vascular tissues may are joined together. The process of grafting is expensive, requires specialised skills and experience, transmits diseases between plants easily and is said to reduce the genetic variability of crops.

Soil Washing

Soil washing is a process which uses liquids in order to remove chemical pollutants from the soil. This process requires large quantities of water, which has to be treated to in order to remove contaminates once it has been used, else it will contaminate other soils.

Diesel Usage

A major issue related to farming is the use of diesel fuel, which makes up over 50% of the energy used in the farming industry. Diesel fuel contains carbon particulates and 40 other chemicals which are harmful to human health and the environment causing smog, acid rain and contributing to global climate change.

As a result, diesel is not a viable fuel solution for farms and farming businesses in the future and they need to adapt to fuel saving measures.  Several new strategies have been designed in order to help decrease diesel consumption in tractors and other machines used in farms.

Sustainable Farming Practices

Sustainable farming practices such as crop rotation, natural pest management and irrigation can be adapted with the help of appropriate techniques. Organic farming does not involve the use of preservatives, waxes or other chemicals and is hence an eco-friendly way of farming.

Natural pest management covers a range of techniques including the manipulation of natural pest control agents, the use of biological pest controls, the reduction of pesticide usage and the monitoring of cultural practices in order to reduce the occurrence of pests and diseases. Combining environmental modelling with risk management algorithms will help to eliminate some of the environmental issues farmers deal with and boost crop production.

Using computational technology along with geographical location, GIS and other remote sensing devices can impact greatly upon the way crops are managed. This technique of managing crops is commonly known ‘Precision Agriculture’. In the coming years, more research will allow these farming technologies to become more beneficial and profitable for both consumers and farmers alike, with the focus of farming shifting towards sustainability.

Sources and Further Reading

Alexander Chilton

Written by

Alexander Chilton

Alexander has a BSc in Physics from the University of Sheffield. After graduating, he spent two years working in Sheffield for a large UK-based law firm, before relocating back to the North West and joining the editorial team at AZoNetwork. Alexander is particularly interested in the history and philosophy of science, as well as science communication. Outside of work, Alexander can often be found at gigs, record shopping or watching Crewe Alexandra trying to avoid relegation to League Two.

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