Sustainable Farming Systems

What are farming systems?

A farming system is an integrated set of activities that farmers perform in light of their resources and circumstances to maximise productivity and profitability on a sustainable basis. It takes into account important components such as soil, livestock, labour, capital and energy with the aim of integrating each individual element in such a way that maximises efficiency.

There are certain factors that are associated with a sustainable farming system, they include: the incorporation of biological and ecological processes like nutrient cycling, soil regeneration and nitrogen fixation in agricultural practices; use of decreases amounts of non-renewable and unsustainable inputs as well as environmentally harmful ones; the collaboration of people with different skills to solve agricultural and natural resource problems like pest management and irrigation.

The need for sustainable farming systems stems from problems such as: nutrient depletion from endless tilting of the soil that ultimately affects yields; harmful agricultural practices such as use of fertiliser or manure that pollutes nearby rivers and coastal waters or rainforest destruction; the increasing loss land to erosion and degradation; and inadequate supply of water.

Sustainable farming systems seek to achieve the three goals of economic efficiency, environmental quality and social responsibility. Economic efficiency means meeting the demand for food at the lowest cost while adjusting to change in preferences as well as structural changes in the sector. Environmental quality requires that farming systems satisfy the public demand for improved environmental performance by reducing pollution from farming and conserving the natural resource base. Social responsibility means the achievement of these goals in socially acceptable ways by increasing farmers’ education as well as improving the standard of living of farmers.

Overall, sustainable farming systems aim to protect endless regeneration by balancing the need for resource conservation and the needs of farmers pursuing their livelihood. The concept also accommodates biodiversity within human landscapes. Farming systems can be continually improved through science, management and research to be made more sustainable.

Assessing impact of agriculture

To make farming systems more sustainable, it is important to have an accurate picture of the extent of resource usage as well as the environmental impacts of the various elements of agricultural production. This involves measuring metrics such as greenhouse gas emissions from each cropping cycle or soil degradation.

In this respect, it is necessary to develop holistic assessment schemes that can be used to identify practices and associated environmental impact. Key areas to be assessed include global warming, water use, nutrient runoff and ecotoxicity. This would enable farming systems to improve in necessary areas and allow for easier regulation.

Sustainable pest control

While it is evident that pests pose a serious problem to agriculture due to significant reduction in crop yields, the methods adopted to control such pests could also have far reaching effects. This is especially true with the use of pesticides. Despite the widespread use of pesticides, they have less talked about disadvantages. Pesticides are usually just not toxic to the organisms they are intended to eliminate, they can also be just as toxic to other organisms, some of which are actually important. Similarly, constant use of pesticides could result in organisms becoming resistant to them. Furthermore, pesticides often leave behind residues on crops, or may find their way into the soil or groundwater. All of which could have ripple effects.

Thus, it is necessary to adopt an ecosystem approach to crop protection that combines practices to keep crops healthy while minimizing use of pesticides. This could include use of biological control, fallow management or trap crops.

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