Sustainability is essential to a farm’s bottom line. Climbing costs make it all the more important to make the best use of the natural resources at your disposal. Hard data and thoughtful planning can guide sustainability and business decisions that save your farm money in the long run. Here are three ways to increase sustainability on a commercial farm.
1. Save Water With Smart Irrigation
Drought is an expensive problem. According to the LA Times, drought-related land problems cost California farmers $1.7 billion in the past year. Lately, the problem has extended past the arid climate of California to affect almost half of the country. It’s more important than ever to be sustainable and smart about irrigation and freshwater usage.
Guesswork won’t make the most of a dwindling water supply. Instead, real numbers broken down by block can guide your irrigation strategies. A system featuring a smart irrigation valve is the first step to firmer control over your water supply. These valves control the flow of water more precisely than opening and closing valves yourself, but that’s only the beginning of the system. Technology inside the valve (that runs on a solar cell for bonus sustainability) can transmit water usage data to your computer. This allows you to see in charts where your water is most needed. Tailor your planting strategies to use less overall water for a more sustainable and drought-stable operation.
2. Make Soil Health a Priority
The phrase “common as dirt” can be deceptive. On a farm, healthy soil is an important natural resource. Fertilizer is one way to keep levels of essential nutrients high, but it can be expensive. There are cost-free ways to boost soil health and sustainability on a farm.
Wind erosion, pollution and even the sun can damage the health of your soil. The USDA recommends keeping soil covered as much as possible using cover crops. These inexpensive crops also put roots into the soil, making it less likely to compact or erode.
Plant multiple types of cover crops to increase biodiversity on your farm. Biodiversity is an important part of sustainable farming. In healthy natural spaces, many types of animals, insects and plants coexist to act as a balance against long-term damage to the ecosystem. If one species is affected by disease, more can take its place. Apply the same principles to your farm by increasing the number of diverse plants in cover crops and in natural spaces such as ponds and gardens.
3. Seek Alternatives to Blanket Pesticides and Insecticides
One of the most crucial decisions a farming operation can make is how and when to intervene with pesticides and insecticides. A careful and early application of pesticides can prevent disastrous crop loss, but overzealous use presents long-term financial and sustainability problems. Data can guide this decision to reduce risk and cut costs.
Don’t take a blanket approach to pests and insects on your farm. Bombarding crops with pesticides, or combining pesticide and insecticide into one spray, may be a waste of resources. This approach can also kill biodiverse organisms and harm the overall health of the land.
Scientists are also investigating more sustainable approaches to pesticides. Certain natural pesticides are permitted under the banner of organic farming, such as seed oils. UC Davis is developing a biosolarization approach that uses low-cost solutions like tarps, water and heat to grow and promote natural biopesticides in soil. Switching your approach to pest control to a more sustainable method will likely be easier in years to come.
A farming operation involves a wide array of costs, balances and benefits. Constantly monitoring soil health and water usage can give you an edge during tough times. Without a full set of data and information, you may be gambling with crucial decisions on your farm. As more scientists turn their attention to farming, there are more sustainability solutions every year. Look into all the options and pinpoint ways to streamline your farm’s operations for better sustainability.