8 Ways To Make Your Farm More Sustainable

8 Ways To Make Your Farm More Sustainable

There is a lot of discussion about sustainability these days and many different ways to broach the topic. According to Merriam-Webster, the word sustainable is defined as “of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting, or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.”

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While a very literal interpretation can be gleaned from this definition as it relates to agriculture, there are more abstract aspects of sustainability that should be considered when developing a sustainable framework for your operation.
Farming in a way that ensures that land, resources, and finances will be available and in good condition for generations to come is the basic tenet of sustainability in agriculture and is the goal of all successful farming operations.

Jeanine Davis, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University, lists eight concepts to consider to help your operation be more sustainable.

1. Protect And Build Your Soil
To grow good crops and leave productive land for future generations, it is necessary to protect and build soil by practicing erosion control, planting cover crops, adding organic matter, and carefully investigating the potential long-term impacts on the soil and soil life when applying agricultural products to the soil.

2. Protect Your Water
All agriculture is dependent on abundant, clean water. You need to protect the water you use and work with your community, state, and federal governments and grower organizations to ensure there will be water for future use.

3. Protect Native Plants, Animals, Insects, And Microbial Life
Pollinators are a hot topic now, but many growers are just beginning to understand the importance of the microbial, earthworm, arthropod, and insect life in the soil. We live in a very integrated ecosystem, and there are hundreds of examples of what can go wrong if we eliminate predators or release an invasive plant.

4. Make Time For Yourself
You can get so busy trying to make a living that you forget to take care of yourself. As production systems such as high tunnels became popular as a way to extend the growing season, suddenly the downtime that growers traditionally used to take vacations, enjoy their hobbies, etc. was filled with growing more crops. Agriculture is not a sustainable vocation if there is no personal time.

With all the new things you need to concern yourself with including food safety, GAPs, organic certification, and Internet-based marketing, evenings and weekends often are spent on the computer making sales, filling out forms, and doing bookkeeping. This eats into time you used to spend with family and friends, and scheduling time to nurture relationships is important.

5. Work Toward Making A Living Wage
Some of you are not making enough money to adequately support your family. In some cases, these growers just keep farming the way they have always farmed and borrow money to make up the shortfall, and this is not sustainable.

You need to understand enterprise budgets and study your books at the end of every season, and you need to be willing to make changes to keep your farm profitable. This often involves diversifying into new crops, areas of agriculture, or marketing. An operation that is not making money will not continue to survive this generation, much less another.

6. Stay Informed
You can’t operate in a vacuum; you need to know what is going on within your community that could impact your farming operation. Stay informed about political issues on a state and federal basis. Land-use planning, noise ordinances, food safety regulations, and taxes are just a few examples of things that could have a big impact on your farm.

7. Train The Next Generation
It is the responsibility of this generation of farmers to help generate interest in farming and train a new generation of growers. Take time to visit the classroom, welcome school groups to the farm, take on summer interns, and serve as mentors for beginning farmers.

8. Educate The Public
Keep community leaders, elected officials, and the public informed about the importance of protecting farmland and farming. With such a small percentage of the population involved in farming, you need to work together with others in the industry to keep everyone else informed about what is required to grow this nation’s food, fuel, and fiber.