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What is sustainable agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture refers to a series of farming practices that can supply global food and textile needs without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to do the same. Such sustainable farming techniques aim to protect the environment by limiting the usage of non-renewable resources and developing alternative, renewable energy sources. 

Through wise land management, sustainable agriculture aims to:

  • Restore soil fertility and stimulate biodiversity
  • Lower pollution and enhance overall environmental conditions 
  • Eliminate the need for unjustified chemical substances
  • Minimize fossil fuel usage in agriculture 
  • Save water and energy 
  • Support local production and rural economic growth
  • Consider the natural carbon, water, and nutrient cycles
  • Increase awareness among farmers and governments 

All these practices can slow down environmental degradation to ensure that future generations continue to have access to resources and high-quality soil to produce nutrient-rich food.

Best sustainable farming practices and methods

Modern sustainable farming practices aim to substitute damaging farming methods with procedures and processes that restore soil, water, and air quality. Here are the best sustainable farming techniques and methods used worldwide: 

  • Aquaponics 
  • Agroforestry and food forests
  • Biodynamic farming
  • Hydroponics
  • Mulching
  • Natural pest management
  • Polycultures and crop rotation
  • Urban agriculture
  1. Aquaponics 

Aquaponics refers to a farming method in which fish and plants grow together in the same environment. The bacteria in the water transform the fish waste into nitrates that power a nitrogen cycle — nitrates become food for the plants, and the water gets cleaned of dangerous toxins for fish to thrive. Additional nutrients are also necessary to ensure consistent plant growth. 

Aquaponics advantages: 

  • It uses less water to grow up to 8 times more food per acre than traditional agriculture. 
  • It doesn’t require the usage of manufactured fertilizers, and the food is free of pesticides.
  • An indoor setup enables continuous food production in almost all climates — vegetables and fish. 
  • It eliminates soil-borne diseases.
  • If you apply controlled environment agriculture, you can grow plants year-round in any climate zone.

Aquaponics disadvantages: 

  • It’s unsuitable for crops like grains, root vegetables, or tubers. 
  • It needs high amounts of electricity to power water pumps and heaters necessary to monitor and maintain the ecosystem in optimal conditions. 
  • The upfront costs of setting the aquaponics system up and running can be high. 
  • Large-scale production is expensive. 
  • Keeping the system functional requires technical knowledge and experience in working with various types of fish and bacteria to maintain nitrogen balance in the water. 
  • The accumulation of waste can eventually become poisonous for the fish inside the tank without proper monitoring. 
  1. Agroforestry and food forests

Agroforestry and food forests are methods of farming in which farmers plant trees alongside crops. This land management approach effectively sequesters carbon in the soil, reduces food insecurity, and diversifies income for farmers.

Agroforestry advantages: 

  • It enhances soil fertility and maintains soil quality over time.
  • It improves air and water quality.
  • It supports biodiversity in the soil and the environment. 
  • Crops and livestock are more productive thanks to being shielded from the destructive impacts of sunlight, wind, and extreme weather conditions. 
  • Small amounts of wood from tree pruning can become fuel.

Agroforestry disadvantages: 

  • This farming method doesn’t pay off in the short term, as trees need several years to mature and become productive. 
  • It requires regular tree maintenance and rigorous planning year after year. 
  • The wood product market has high entry barriers in many states and regions. 
  • Tree integration requires specific skills; sometimes, working with specifically trained contractors is necessary to reach your goals. 
  1. Biodynamic farming

Biodynamic farming is a holistic and spiritual approach in which the ecosystem is seen as a resilient, thriving organism. This method relies on a high biodiversity of animals, crops, and beneficial insects that work together since all plants and animals coexist and contribute to one another’s well-being. Hence, farmers use practices like composting, integrating animals and bioorganisms, crop rotation and diversification, and cover cropping to enhance soil fertility and increase productivity. 

Biodynamic farming advantages: 

  • Soil and water pollution are reduced to a minimum, or even eliminated, as this farming method doesn’t use chemical pest control or synthetic fertilizers. 
  • With no chemical inputs to the soil, the food produced in biodynamic farms is organic, nutritious, tasty, and healthy. 
  • As it involves composting, it’s a sustainable method of handling livestock manure to prevent it from ending in landfills and impacting air and water quality. 

Biodynamic farming disadvantages: 

  • It involves more work, personal care, time, and effort than industrial farming.
  • It’s rarely suitable for mass production due to the work required to produce food. 
  • Products obtained through biodynamic farming are more expensive because yields are usually smaller than in traditional farms. 
  1. Hydroponics

In hydroponics, farmers grow crops without soil. Instead, they use nutrient-rich, filtered water with a balanced pH to nurture the plant and host its root system. Besides water, plants also need materials like perlite, peat moss, coconut fiber, or vermiculite to keep their roots together underwater. 

Hydroponics advantages: 

  • Increased productivity thanks to ​​a system that doesn’t require plants to use energy for developing large root systems to look for nourishment.
  • Fast growth cycles — plants cultivated in water can reach maturity up to 25% faster than in soil.
  • Reduced water consumption, as the same water can be filtered, enriched, and reused to grow crops over time.

Hydroponics disadvantages: 

  • High upfront installation costs and ongoing maintenance and monitoring to ensure the water has the right acidity and nutrient composition.
  • High risk of diseases, as plants are more likely to be affected by pests and bacteria without soil protection.
  • Sensitive to power source fluctuations. 
  1. Mulching 
In hydroponics, farmers grow crops without soil

Mulching helps with controlling weed growth by inhibiting weed seed germination. Covering the soil with mulch is also known to favor crops by preserving soil moisture and regulating its temperature. Mulches can be inorganic (geotextiles, black plastic) or organic (chopped leaves, grass clippings, pine needles, paper, compost, straw, sawdust, wood chips, and shredded bark).

Mulching advantages: 

  • The mulch minimizes the need to water your plants by decreasing the water that evaporates from your soil.
  • The mulch keeps the soil cooler during hot weather, improving its capacity to retain water. 
  • Weeds grow slower and are easier to remove. 

Mulching disadvantages: 

  • Too much mulch (more than 3-4 inches) can slow growth or even suffocate plants. 
  • Mulch is an excellent hiding place for pests like snails, slugs, centipedes, spiders, ants, or cockroaches.
  1. Natural pest management

The term “natural pest management” refers to a sustainable farming technique for pesticide-free pest control. Instead, mechanical methods, insects, animals, or other plants are used to grow organic crops. Companion planting and using plants or birds as pest repellants are among the most common practices of sustainable agriculture for natural pest control.  

Advantages of natural pest management: 

  • Natural forms of pest control are safe for pets, wildlife, and people who live and work on the farm. 
  • It reduces the farm’s carbon footprint, significantly impacting the environment.
  • With no chemicals involved, it reduces water, soil, and air contamination. 
  • You don’t risk pests becoming resistant to any pest control solution. 

Disadvantages of natural pest management: 

  • Natural pest management is more expensive than chemical products and takes more time to prove its efficiency. 
  • It requires a mix of natural solutions to keep away all the pests that could harm your crops. 
  • It requires in-depth knowledge about the various options for pest management and how to mix them successfully. 
  • You might have to repeat the procedure several times before seeing any results. 
  1. Polycultures and crop rotation

The two terms refer to growing many crops simultaneously (polycultures) or as a variety of crops grown in the same location across many growing seasons (crop rotation). The biodiversity resulting from these methods aids in maintaining soil quality over time and controlling insect populations.

Benefits of growing multiple crops: 

  • Crops don’t all need the same nutrients, so diversity enables different nutrients to be absorbed depending on what you choose to plant.
  • Incorporating legume crops in polycultures or crop rotation helps to rebalance the soil’s nitrogen supply. 
  • Plants with different root systems improve soil structure and water retention ability. 
  • Polycultures and crop rotation prevent soil erosion. 
  • Crop rotation improves crop productivity.

Disadvantages of growing multiple crops: 

  • Mixing the wrong plants can lead to nutrient buildup. 
  • Each crop requires a particular kind of care, so diversification implies investing in various planting methods for each specific crop.
  • Even if the upfront cost is higher than with monocultures, each crop’s success is not guaranteed, and one could lose a whole harvest.
Crop rotation improves crop productivity
  1. Urban agriculture

Urban agriculture is growing, processing, and distributing food in or near urban and suburban settings. It includes communal gardening in parks and vacant lots, roadside urban fringe agriculture, cattle grazing in open areas, and backyard, roof, and balcony gardening. 

Urban agriculture advantages: 

  • It creates self-sustainable, resilient food systems. 
  • It adds value to underutilized spaces while fighting climate change and encouraging biodiversity. 
  • It increases property value.
  • It encourages healthy eating habits with long-term social, economic, and environmental effects. 

Urban agriculture disadvantages: 

  • Urban soils are only sometimes suitable for food production, so buying new soil might be needed. 
  • The space dedicated to growing food is often limited in urban areas. 
  • Improper water management can lead to shortages. 
  • Without clear regulations, the harmful chemical could be used, leading to further air, water, and soil pollution.

Benefits of sustainable farming for the environment

  • Sustainable agriculture counters climate change. The global food system is responsible for 21 to 37% of the annual global greenhouse gas emissions, and these farming practices can go a long way in fighting climate change. 
  • Sustainable farming techniques improve soil, air, and water quality. With no need for pesticides, fertilizers, and other harmful agricultural chemicals, harmful substances can be eliminated from the environment, so they no longer contaminate marine habitats, air, soil, or people’s and wildlife’s hormonal systems.
  • These methods of farming reduce water consumption. Currently, agriculture is responsible for as much as 69% of the global freshwater withdrawals. On the other hand, sustainable farming techniques improve soil structure, improving water retention abilities for higher resilience to draught and better usage of resources in the long run. 
  • Sustainable farming support soil restoration and land conservation. By preventing soil erosion and increasing productivity, these practices aim to eliminate the need for deforestation and ecological destruction. 
sustainable farming techniques improve soil structure

HomeBiogas solutions for farmers

HomeBiogas solutions support sustainable agriculture through waste management systems that convert organic waste and animal manure into renewable energy and 100% natural liquid fertilizer, minimizing the need for chemical substances and synthetic fertilizers in agriculture. These solutions promote circular economy principles, aiming to support communities worldwide, including in off-grid and developing areas. 

The easy-to-use HomeBiogas systems are suitable for small scale farmers and gardens, helping reduce the environmental impact of organic waste and turning waste into energy. The systems use a natural and efficient process called anaerobic digestion — bacteria break down organic matter in an oxygen-free environment until they transform it into biogas for cooking and bio-fertilizer. 

The residue is used as organic bio-fertilizer, with excellent results. Farmers who already rely on HomeBiogas solutions for waste management have reported less need for pesticides, larger harvests, and healthier and more fertile soil. 

HomeBiogas systems are suitable for small scale farmers and gardens

Final thoughts

Sustainable farming practices can slow pollution and reverse the damage created by intensive agricultural practices in the last decades. Farming methods like agroforestry, biodynamic farming, or hydroponics can help restore soil and increase its fertility. We can grow organic, healthy food with smaller environmental costs as we develop sustainable practices and learn to scale them. 

Small steps to reduce the usage of synthetic fertilizers and eliminate practices that lead to deforestation and soil erosion can help communities and boost yields to provide access to quality food with a minimum impact on the environment. 

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