Sustainable Agriculture Laws
A growing number of farmers are moving to a farming system that is more sustainable. Sustainability is a multifaceted approach that addresses the environmental and economic needs of the land, soil, and water.
Farmers practicing sustainable agriculture typically avoid the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides and growth regulators. These chemicals deplete the earth’s resources, suppress biological activity and are detrimental to human and livestock health.
Water and Soil Conservation
Sustainable agriculture practices conserve and protect soil, water and nutrients. They replenish these natural resources while reducing their use and dependence on non-renewable energy or chemicals.
Sustainability laws and policies aim to balance three goals: Satisfying human food and fiber needs; enhancing environmental quality, the natural resource base and ecosystem services; and sustaining the economic viability of farms. This balance requires the input of farmers, consumers, producers, processors and distributors and all other participants in the food chain.
For example, sustainable farmers limit their use of pesticides and fertilizers to reduce air pollution caused by spray drift and agricultural burning; and water pollution from nitrate and phosphorus runoff. They also reduce erosion by planting trees and bushes in fields, a practice called windbreaks.
Additionally, sustainable farmers manage livestock manure and crop residues so they don’t pollute the environment. They grow crops and fruits that are healthier for humans, and they plant cover crops to increase the amount of organic matter in soils. They also minimize water waste through conservation tillage and the use of alternative irrigation methods, such as evapotranspiration.
Redesign of the Farm
Agricultural land needs to be managed as a whole system and landscape. Many farms that practice sustainable farming treat less-intensively cultivated or even uncultivated areas as integral parts of the farm. This may include natural vegetation alongside streams, or strips of prairie plants within or around crop fields. This prevents soil erosion, reduces nutrient runoff and supports pollinators and biodiversity.
Another common technique is avoiding synthetic fertilizers by growing crops that use natural, organic matter as fertilizers. This helps to protect the environment, expands natural resources and makes the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources.
Sustainable agriculture also takes into account the air quality and public health. Nearly all agricultural operations pollute the atmospheric air with drifts of chemical applications, dust from field work, fossil fuel emissions from farm equipment and methane gas from livestock. Sustainable farmers minimize this impact and produce higher-quality food with fewer contaminants. This makes the world a healthier and safer place to live.
Conservation of Natural Habitats and Biodiversity
Biodiversity is an important aspect of sustainable agriculture, as it supports healthy crops and ecosystems. Healthy soils teeming with living organisms produce high-yielding crops, reduce erosion, prevent water-stress, and prevent pollution. Sustainable farms conserve natural habitats and biodiversity by not removing species from their land plots or using chemical pesticides or fertilizers that damage pollinators.
Sustainable agriculture also minimizes environmental harm by preserving natural water resources and reducing the use of non-renewable energy sources. It uses organic compost and biochar to increase soil nutrients, instead of synthetic fertilizers that can deplete water supplies or pollute rivers and coastal waters (eutrophication). In addition, it limits the amount of sewage runoff from farms to reduce contamination of waterways.
The practice of sustainable agriculture takes a global view of the environment. Farming practices that harm the environment in one area may negatively impact environmental quality elsewhere. The use of fertilizer, for example, can improve the health of a farm’s soil but pollute nearby waterways and lead to eutrophication.
In sustainable agriculture, farms make decisions about crops and livestock that take into account the impact on natural genetic biodiversity. Agricultural innovation is encouraged, including through the use of genetically modified organisms. GMOs allow farmers to produce strains of wheat, corn and other crops that are able to grow in regions and conditions they wouldn’t be able to in the short term without modification.
These changes help reduce the need to convert natural ecosystems into cropland, which is an important environmental goal. In addition, they also allow farmers to achieve better yields with less water usage and herbicide and pesticide use. This reduces the environmental impact of agriculture, as well as helping to satisfy consumers’ nutritional needs.