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7 Best Eco-Friendly Farming Practices for a Healthier Planet in 2024

Large-scale agriculture can be harmful to the environment. This is because industries in this sector typically use toxic and unsafe farming techniques to yield better, larger crops.

Using eco-friendly farming techniques can mitigate and even avoid the negative impacts of industrial-scale farming.

This article discusses the 7 best eco-friendly farming methods for a healthier planet. It also answers a few frequently asked questions from users, to provide you with more information on the subject of farming and agricultural sustainability. 

7 Eco-friendly Farming Methods for Sustainable Agriculture 

1. Use Organic or Non-Toxic Products

Organic farming is a practice that’s been around for several decades now. It’s a farming method that uses natural techniques and products to grow crops. Based on the recent Paraquat lawsuit update, chemicals found in some pesticides (e.g., herbicides and insecticides) are harmful to the environment. They may even put people at risk of developing various health conditions. 

eco-friendly farming practices - Spraying crops

The production and use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. In the early 1900s, researchers developed a method for mass-producing ammonia, a nitrogen-containing chemical that crops can take from the earth. Ammonia is now the world’s second-most-produced chemical, and it is widely utilized as an effective fertilizer.

Unfortunately, ammonia production now accounts for between 1% to 2% of global CO2 emissions. Studies show that fertilizers also increase the production of greenhouse gasses after farmers apply them to the soils. 

Organic products are less likely to increase the risk of greenhouse gas emissions. They may also enhance the nutrient and energy cycles in crop production.

Organic farming techniques can enable farmers to reduce nitrous oxide and methane emissions from the soil. This strategy positively influences water, nearby species, land, the atmosphere, and farmers long-term.

2. Reduce Tillage

Tilling is the technique of perforating the soil, allowing space for moisture and air to penetrate. In turn, this enables seeds to sprout, increasing root growth, suppressing weed growth, and incorporating nutrients into the soil. Regardless of its benefits, tilling still causes negative effects on soil quality. 

Tillage breaks the soil, disrupting its structure and accelerating erosion and surface runoff. Additionally, crop residue—which can help cushion the force of pounding raindrops on the soil—is significantly reduced. Research shows that conventional tilling or plowing promotes microbial activity, which can result in CO2 emissions. 

eco-friendly farming practices -tillage

It may also increase the production of powerful greenhouse gasses such as nitrous oxide and methane. 

Farmers may cut GHG emissions by optimizing tillage practices. Overturning, excavating, and churning soil are examples of these approaches. Reduced tillage will result in lower usage of fossil fuels, which can potentially cut GHG emissions in the long run.

3. Switch to Renewable Energy Sources

Energy efficiency is an essential component in creating a healthier planet. While farm energy efficiency in the US has nearly doubled in the last three decades, most farms still have chances to save resources and cut costs. 

Agriculture uses energy to power farming equipment and machinery. Farmers may also use it to heat or cool buildings and to illuminate the farm. Natural resources are also being used in creating fertilizers and chemicals like pesticides. 

Farm production has become largely mechanized in most of the world. In the US alone, farms consume 1.872 trillion Btu of energy, which accounts for about 1.9 percent of total U.S. primary energy consumption. This energy contributes to around 35% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the agri-food industry. 

Using renewable energy sources, such as hydropower, solar energy, and wind farms can help reduce harmful emissions. 

Take a look at this interesting video by TED-Ed on the potential of eco-friendly farming:

4. Consider Perennials and Cover Crops

Cover crops may increase soil tilth and structure, promoting water infiltration and minimizing compaction. It can also help suppress weeds, control erosion, maintain the organic composition of the soil, and provide beneficial insects with nectar and pollen. This reduces the need for fertilizers and pesticides in achieving a strong yield. 

Cover crops provide several advantages for cropping systems. 

Generally, they’re planted in early fall to protect the soil during the winter season. Cover crops are rarely grown for harvest. However, some farmers may harvest fava beans or other crop seeds in the process. These crops are often referred to as “green manure,” as they’re turned under after winter, to improve soil health. 

Crops like rye, clover, and hairy vetch are sown during the off-season when soils would otherwise be barren. Perennial crops like lemon balm, potato, and the common sage are grown to sustain live roots in the ground throughout the year. 

eco-friendly farming practices -tillage

Characteristics of good cover crops include: 

  • Fast germination and emergence
  • Strong seedling vigor
  • Competitiveness with other plants
  • Resistance to unfavorable environments
  • Cheap cost of establishment
  • Requires minimum care to grow

Early fall is the ideal time to sow cover crops. This gives them time to grow and thrive as there is ample rainfall, suitable soil conditions, and some warmer weather.

5. Practice ‘Agroforestry’

Agroforestry is the deliberate incorporation of trees and shrubs into agricultural and animal production systems to generate ecological, financial, and social advantages. For thousands of years, it has been used in the United States and across the world. 

There are several types of agroforestry farming systems. A few common examples include: 

  • Alley cropping
  • Forest farming
  • Silvopasture
  • Riparian forest buffers
  • Windbreaks

Farmers can provide shade and protection for plants, animals, and water resources by including trees or shrubs in their operations. It may also potentially increase earnings through additional cash from fruit or nut crops.

eco-friendly farming practices - agroforestry

6. Merge Crops with Livestock

Plant and animal production are often kept separate in industrial agriculture, with animals living away from locations where their feed is generated. This means crops are also growing away from rich manure fertilizers that could potentially aid in their growth. An increasing amount of research suggests that integrating agricultural and animal production might increase farm efficiency and profitability.

In a paper titled “Reintegrating Land and Livestock,” researchers found that there could be environmental benefits to integration, such as reduced on-farm emissions from fertilizers, increased soil carbon, and reduced water footprints.

eco-friendly farming practices - pig in the plant crops

Grazing farmland promotes soil quality by improving soil microbial density and organic matter. It can also bring considerable benefits to farmers who employ cover crops and no-till methods since the animals can graze the cover crops while softly integrating their dung into the soil with their hooves. 

Nevertheless, over-compaction is something that many farmers worry about when they first try to reintegrate livestock with their crops. A great way to prevent over-compaction is to apply managed grazing and crop rotation techniques in your farming systems. 

7. Increase Crop Diversity and Rotation

Crop rotation is the farming technique of growing a wide range of crops. This has several advantages and may bring solutions to some of the most pressing issues confronting modern farmers, such as:

  • Climate change
  • The looming food crisis
  • Economic insecurity
  • Depletion of natural resources 
  • High rates of food waste
  • Economic strife and crippling debt

The conventional method of growing crops is to plant a particular cultivar in a specific region. However, this results in entire fields being vulnerable to the same threat, whether it is a pest or illness.

Crop diversity is used by growers and scientists to create novel, more robust, and productive varieties that customers like to eat, that are nutritious, and that are adaptable to local preferences, habitats, and problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Sustainable Agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture is a technique that aims to preserve farmers, resources, and communities by encouraging lucrative, ecologically sound, and community-friendly practices and approaches. For an agriculture practice to be sustainable, it must possess three characteristics:

- Economic viability
- Social support
- Ecological soundness
Read the full guide to learn more about sustainable agriculture and eco-friendly farming practices.

What are the Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture? 

Sustainable agriculture has several benefits, including: 
- Increased income for farmers
- Improved quality of life for farmers, families, and communities
- Increased food production for humans and animals
- Boost environmental support and stewardship
Read the full guide to learn more about the benefits of sustainable agriculture.

What Farming Method is the Most Environmentally Friendly? 

Organic farming is possibly the most environmentally friendly farming method available. It only uses biological fertilizers and natural pest control in crop production. Plus, it optimizes nutrient cycles and energy utility in agricultural systems. Read the full guide to learn more about the most eco-friendly farming methods.

References

Fertilizer and Climate Change | MIT Climate Portal

Greenhouse gas emissions from synthetic nitrogen manufacture and fertilization for main upland crops in China | Carbon Balance and Management | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)

No-till farming could cut greenhouse gases significantly (michiganradio.org)

Energy Use in Agriculture: Background and Issues (nationalaglawcenter.org)

USDA ERS – Chart Detail

Function & selection of cover crops | OSU Extension Service (oregonstate.edu)

Agroforestry | USDA

10 Biggest Issues Being Faced by Farmers in 2020 – MSFAgriculture

What is Sustainable Agriculture? – SARE Western

Sustainable Agriculture (usda.gov)

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