As a farmer, your livelihood depends on your ability to produce a lush and plentiful harvest each year. But you shouldn’t operate with the mentality of producing a harvest at any cost, because you’ll want to make your small farm more eco-friendly. It’s also important to think about the land you’re stewarding and how you can protect it for yourself and future generations.
4 Eco-Friendly Small Farm Trends
For many decades, large farms have dominated the American agricultural industry. These farms grow the same crops over and over, often using large amounts of fertilizers and chemical pesticides, which damage the soil, water, air, and overall climate. And while the result has been an abundance of crops at cost-effective prices, this system isn’t designed to last forever. At some point, natural resources will be so degraded that it’s impossible for these farms to continue operating.
“But a growing number of innovative farmers and scientists are taking a different path, moving toward a farming system that is more sustainable—environmentally, economically, and socially,” The Union of Concerned Scientists explains. “This system has room for farms of all sizes, producing a diverse range of foods, fibers, and fuels adapted to local conditions and regional markets. It uses state-of-the-art, science-based practices that maximize productivity and profit while minimizing environmental damage.”
If you want to enhance the eco-friendliness and sustainability of your small farm, there are several practical action steps you can take.
1. Rotate Crops
While it may be convenient to grow the same crops in the same places each year, it’s terrible for the long-term health and vitality of your farm. Not only should you plant a variety of plants, but you need to rotate crop location to promote healthier soil and improve pest control. You may even give intercropping a try.
“Intercropping is growing two or more crops together at the same time in the same space in a beneficial manner,” farmer Jonathon Engels explains. “Row intercropping is working this arrangement with at least one of the components being planted in rows. Strip intercropping is a more industrialized version with rows of individual crops big enough to be harvested with machinery.”
How you choose to rotate crops will be largely dependent on the size of your farm and the space you have, so do your homework and figure out which method will work best for your situation.
2. Choose the Right Equipment
According to Bobby Ford Tractor and Equipment, “One of the keys to eco-friendly farming is choosing the right equipment. In particular, you need to buy equipment that’s built to last. Not only does it break down less, but it also performs more efficiently and reduces waste.”
It’s also smart to consider used equipment (when feasible). From a big picture perspective, this reduces the environmental impact of manufacturing new equipment. On a micro scale, it saves you money (which can be reinvested into other eco-friendly farming practices).
3. Maximize Natural Resources
It’s critically important that you maximize the natural resources you have available at your disposal – such as water.
One of the benefits of having a smaller farm is that it takes less water to produce healthy crops. And while there are dozens of strategies, a drip irrigation system could conserve 50 to 70 percent more water than traditional methods (while simultaneously increasing crop production by as much as 20 to 90 percent).
4. Don’t Overplant Landscapes
When you depend on your farm’s acreage for your income and livelihood, it’s tempting to use every single parcel of land on your property. However, sustainable farms recognize the value in uncultivated (or less intensively cultivated) areas. These spaces help with reducing nutrient runoff, controlling erosion, and promoting biodiversity. Think about this as you plant.
Think About the Future
It’s easy to get caught up in the here and now. You get so focused on having a successful harvest season that you fail to consider the next season (and the one after that, etc.). But if you want to have a successful farm for years to come, you have to consider the importance of sustainability. In doing so, you can enjoy a lush harvest today and the promise of a healthy crop for years to come.