Farms are the backbones of many modern societies. However, commercial agricultural practices are often poor examples of responsible land management. With some planning, that can change, and farms can help support community sustainability efforts. Here are five ways to make that vision reality.
1. Water Conservation Through Responsible Irrigation
Water is crucial to farming practices. However, water levels are declining rapidly across a large part of the world. As a result, farmers interested in supporting community sustainability must look at ways to conserve this precious resource. Rethinking irrigation practices is one way to do this.
Surface irrigation, commonly used in commercial farming, wastes a large amount of water because it targets a large area. Other methods, like drip irrigation, are much more water efficient. Timers or a convenient smart water valve can maximize efficiency in a system like this. Plus, the added convenience of remotely controlling water flow frees time to focus on other tasks.
Farmers can also look at where their irrigation water comes from. Many farms use wells to feed irrigation systems. However, it is also possible to capture rainwater for this purpose in many situations. Rainwater reuse reduces the strain on local aquifers and can help improve sustainability efforts on commercial farms.
2. Integrating Solar Panels Into Grazing Pastures
Farmland is often ideally suited to solar energy capture. Large expanses of open, flat spaces are ideal for placing large solar arrays. Pairing solar panels with farming is known as agrivoltaic farming. Researchers are discovering that, contrary to what many believe, the panels can help improve the condition of the surrounding soil.
Solar panels shade the soil, which reduces the water lost to evaporation. The shade also creates a cooler environment that is favorable to many plants. They also provide shelter for livestock grazing in the area. The Department of Energy has several excellent resources available to farmers interested in learning more about using solar power on farms.
3. Diversifying Crops by Adding Trees
Trees can serve many of the same functions as solar panels. Where the latter produces energy, the former can add to marketable products and protect the landscape. For example, fruit and nut trees produce valuable commodities in many areas. Trees also serve as windbreaks, and their roots help stabilize soil structure.
Planting mixed crops is a prominent feature of sustainable agriculture, but it is hardly new. The practice has a long list of historical uses and has been practiced by many indigenous groups who value its ability to boost production without harming the soil.
4. Intentional Crop Rotation and Soil Regeneration
Intentionally rotating crops can support soil health in far-reaching ways. For example, it can help improve the nutrient profile of the soil. It also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and herbicides.
Creating a system that works best for your farm can take a lot of planning and trial-and-error planting. Unfortunately, that means you may not see positive benefits for several years. However, with a dedication to the end result, crop rotation will usually produce the desired outcome of healthier soil. The Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems at the University of California has created a fact sheet to help farmers make informed decisions about crop rotation that is worth examining.
5. Developing Strong Relationships With Community Stakeholders
Farms and farmers do not exist in a void. They are vital parts of a community and are connected to many of its moving parts. Developing strong relationships with community stakeholders, whether government officials, suppliers, or customers, is crucial to remaining sustainable. For example, by creating a solid local customer base, farmers can reduce the transportation necessary to get products to consumers.
Most food consumed — from produce to animal products — comes from a commercial farm. Therefore, improving sustainability efforts there can serve as an example to the rest of the community. In addition, by improving sustainability on farms, entire communities can benefit. Some examples include improving irrigation systems, integrating solar panels into fields, and improving the soil through diverse crop selection and rotation.