Here’s another example of how waste can be reduced on the farm!
Farm sustainability via use of organic fertilizer.
Our farm has been practicing sustainable agriculture for its obvious economical and environmental benefits. In attaining this sustainability, we utilize the goat’s manure from the barn as organic fertilizer in the orchard. Through this approach, we capitalize the organic fertilizer’s versatility and robustness in improving the soil properties through multi-pronged ways structurally, biologically and nutritionally. In addition to fostering improvement in the quality of soil, this method averts the relying on chemical fertilizers.
With orchard nourished organically, the farm nurtures itself as a promoter of organic farm products, keeping tab with the increasing worldwide demand of this niche, which has been growing steadily at a rate close to 9% annually for the past decade. Higher demand converts into competitive pricing and therefore, boosting the farm’s revenues, and placing it a competitive position for organic supply niche.
Maintaining farm sustainability for a small agribusiness
Sinar Utara Agrofarm (SUA), a small Malaysia-based farm that breeds over 100 goats and is host to a six-acre plantation orchard has always been an advocate of farm sustainability. We started this focus some four years ago. Central to this effort is our emphasis on a zero-waste concept. On our farm, the zero-waste concept is driven by recycling elements, which is acutely orchestrated through effective farming dispositions.
Here, the waste or residue from sugar cane and Napier grass are turned into compost used to maintain the soil humidity during hot or drought season. As the country resides within the tropical climate demography, embracing hot and humid season throughout the year, this practical approach is highly beneficial. The residue, made up of organic matters, self decompose into nutrient-rich compost which makes it a fitting conditioner that keeps the soil moist. Mobilizing the farm-generated materials back into its operating fold truly defines SUA’s ratifying commitment to sustainable farming. It has also benefits the farm by keeping the expenses at a minimum, bolstering optimization of resources, and aiding creation of healthy farming environment.
The first I heard of Sustainable Agriculture was in Robert Rodale’s New Farm magazine in the 70’s. It made sense as our farm practiced similar methods to the ones he described since grandpa moved his family the home farm in 1918.
The farm consisted of a 5-year crop rotation, limited plowing, and raising enough livestock to consume all of the production of the 300-acre general farm. The manure was spread back on the soil and cultivation was kept to a minimum to protect the nearly and highly erodible soils on the farm.
This worked well until the agricultural crises kept building momentum in each decadal cycle and the wheat price couldn’t be fed or sold at a profit nor the livestock or products you fed it to. There was no room on the farm for a third-generation so I was sent to college to make my own life.
I taught vocational agriculture and became an extension agent in 16 years. By then the sustainability movement was growing and agents visited Rodale’s Farm and taught the principals to those who were interested. Most of agriculture went to specialized production instead and cash grain farming, confinement hog and poultry production instead. Beef, dairy and lamb remained pretty much the sustainable way but dairy soon joined specialization.
The essence of sustainability to me is leaving the place better than you found it. I taught in my classrooms the principle of healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy livestock, and healthy humans; the chain is connected. Rodale and Albrecht’s teachings helped me learn these principles and teach them to others.
My mentor Paul Reed, Washington, Iowa teaches “speak with your fields.” Farmers will ask you how you did that. My crops right now are speaking volumes through this record drought. I attribute this to the sustainable practices of reduced tillage, balanced fertility, crop rotation and careful management.
I do this profitably by farming with used AGCO machinery and preventive maintenance. AGCO is usually the best buy in the marketplace new or used and lasts a long time; we still use 50 and 60-year old equipment. I have taught reduced tillage to thousands of other farmers across this country and beyond. The White Planters 5100 no tillage planter is the best one ever built in my mind. And the farmer designed Gleaner combine is easy to maintain.
I keep my cost of production low using these methods while yielding beyond my county average. The best part is my soil doesn’t wash away and gets more productive each year. Cover crops is an exciting new part of our crop rotation.
Sustainable Agriculture is a must for my grand children and just makes good common sense. AGCOhelps keep me farming sustainably.
Debra shared with us how she has been implementing sustainable agriculture practices in her farm operations. What are some of things you’re thinking about, or have had success with?
This fall will be my second harvest since I started calling myself a farmer. And the third season since I started making management decisions on the farm. There is certainly no amount of education that can prepare you for the complexities of farming. In 2010, mere months after unexpectedly losing my father, I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Agriculture; majoring in Crop Science. Even with a degree as relevant as that, I still feel entirely lost in our operation.
In the last few years we have tried our best to continue to enhance the sustainability of our farm. We have implemented a flexible crop rotation to decrease pest and disease incidence and better utilize the soil through diversity in crop types and seeding dates. We started soil sampling to better understand the nutrient deficiencies of our fields. We have also made crop checking more of a priority so we can detect pests early and utilize chemical rotation strategies to reduce the chance of resistant populations. It may be a few modest steps toward sustainability, but they have been difficult, yet worthwhile steps up a steep learning curve for our family.
Sustainable agriculture is the key to a very challenging future for our world. If farmers are having a hard time transitioning to management practices entirely different than they are accustomed to, I encourage them to start small. Although these are modest steps, they are to a view that is entirely worth the effort.