Improving Farming Practices
New technologies can offer farmers novel ways to boost the long-term health of their soils. But there are also alternative practices that farmers can implement in parallel to achieve better soil health and efficient crop fertilisation.
Often alternative farming practices can be just as powerful as new technologies when it comes to improving efficiency and boosting soil health. Here are 6 alternative farming practices that some farmers are using today to reduce their use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers and improving the quality of their soils.
1. Integrated Nutrient Management (INM)
Unlike conventional practices which only use inorganic fertilisers, INM advocates the inclusion of organic manures, biofertilisers, and green manures. This practice minimises the use of synthetic fertilisers, increasing the carbon content of the soil with diverse microflora-fauna for bio-fertilisation.
2. Low or no-tillage practices
Several greenhouse gases are immobilized in the soil, mainly in the topmost part of the soil (15-25 cm). Constant deep tillage releases these sequestered gases - which are also essential for agriculture - into the atmosphere. Moreover, the most fertile topsoil is lost to soil erosion, disturbing the soil structure and biological activity, resulting in low fertility, poor water infiltration and moisture conservation. Converting to no-till or reducing tillage will have long-term benefits for the preservation of soil health.
3. Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
Like INM, IPM advocates the inclusion of conventional, traditional, biological, and precision techniques for pest control - all in optimum amounts. IPM programs use existing knowledge on the pest life cycle and their interaction with the environment to determine the best control methodology with the least possible damage to people, property and the environment. This practice enables farmers to combat resistance issues and use safe alternatives in normal circumstances.
4. Drip irrigation and fertiliser microdosing
With new precision farming techniques, agricultural engineers have designed targeted water usage and microdosing of fertilisers to avoid environmental contamination. This means minimal application of fertilisers and only ‘dripping water’ to the plant’s root zone, which limits water runoff and top soil-nutrient leaching into the surrounding environment.
5. Reintegrating livestock
Our ancestors practised livestock and animal husbandry together with growing crops. Even in cultures where animals were held sacred, farmers traditionally maintained cows for their milk and dung. While milk products were essential to feed the family, some were used as seed treatments and pest inhibitors together with manure for fertilisation. Usage of milk products is practised up to the present time in many parts of the world. Reintegrating livestock, combined together with new technologies, creates an efficient resource chain for long term sustainability goals.
6. Crop Covering and Green Manure
Cropping spacers within the trees or crops can help combat soil erosion, improve water retention, or manage unwanted pests (weeds, insects, diseases). These crops may be another cash crop, forage crop, or a leguminous crop to improve nitrogen in the soil with the help of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Once the fruits are harvested, these cover crops - if left undisturbed to degrade - act as manure and protection for the soil. Crop covers can also serve as alternative hosts to pests and beneficial insects, which helps maintain pest ecological balance.