Sustainable agriculture is a science-based practice that not just maximizes per acre productivity and profit, but also protects the environment from all sort of pollution (water, air, soil, and land). Being highly beneficial to farmers, society and natural environment, more and more ecologist, environmentalist and even farmers who have been practicing this form of agriculture insist on it.
Here we share the practice and science of sustainable farming that has been emerged over years of research and study:
No-Tillage – Eliminating the Practice of Traditional Ploughing
Over the years farmers have been using the traditional method of preparing the soil before sowing seeds by practicing tillage as a habit. However, the process is more of a bane than benefit. Although the prime function of tillage is to aerate and loosen the top layer of the soil to help in planting seeds, it has many disadvantages.
First and foremost it dries the soil before seeding, the soil loses a lot of nutrients including nitrogen and also the capacity to hold water. Since water absorbs slower than before, the water infiltration rate of soil decreases which results in soil erosion. Besides, tillage reduces the organic content of the soil along with beneficial micro-organisms and worms such as the earthworm.
Last year when our team eliminated the process of tillage and planted tomato seeds without plowing, many farmers raised eyebrows and expressed doubt about the procedure. However, much to their surprise, our tomato plant was healthy, vigorous and in fact better than those planted in the soil that was tilled. Moreover, getting rid of the process not only facilitated nitrogen and other organic content in the soil (which otherwise decreases) but also helped us to cut the cost of tillage.
Rotate Crops – Start Embracing Crop Diversity
Farmers have the tendency to grow only those crops that they been growing over the years. The usual crop being wheat and paddy. However, to increase both productivities as well as profit, rotation of crops is a must. You cannot just keep on growing the same crop over and over again and expect good results in the form of productivity and profit. One must, therefore, practice crop rotation throughout since growing the same plant in the same place for years in a row leads to depletion of essential nutrients.
There are many benefits of crop diversification – 1. It requires fewer fertilizers since dissimilar crop has the tendency to return the nutrient back into the soil. 2. It reduces the growth of pests and pathogens that usually occurs when one crop is continuously grown. 3. It improves the fertility and soil assembly by growing biomass from root structures.
How can rotating crops double your income? Well, let’s assume that you cultivate wheat in 1 acre. Now wheat will give you 22 quintals in 1 acre and since the cost of wheat per quintal is Rs. 1625 it amounts to Rs. 35,750. Now, let’s assume you cultivate tomato in 1 acre. Now in 1 acre, you get around 20-ton minimum (majority are growing 25 ton) which equals to 181 quintals. Even if the cost of 1 quintal is Rs. 1000, the earning is Rs. 1,81,000 which is anytime more than that of wheat that you cultivate.
Moreover, rotation also aids in increasing the yield of the crop. Farmers who do not use the method of crop rotation have been observing a steady decline in their yield.
Planting Cover Crops
Cover crops such as rye, clover, sorghum, buckwheat, dhaincha (sesbania) are widely used as green manure. The main function of planting cover crops is – a. to give the soil a natural dose of NPK b. to improve the fertility of the soil and c. to prevent the growth of pests and pathogens.
This eliminates the application of nitrogen completely and cuts the total amount of phosphorous and potassium. Thus, reducing the overall cost of fertilizer. Besides, now that these cover plants are used to suppress weeds, farmers do not have to depend on expensive harmful herbicides and pesticides. So, the whole process of planting cover crops not only decreases the overall investment cost but also aids in maintaining the total health of the soil; thereby increasing the productivity and yield of the soil.
Use Mechanical and Biological Methods to Control Pests
Chemical pesticides are highly toxic and harmful to the ecosystem. Many of the herbicides, insecticide, and pesticides used widely in India like Monsanto’s Roundup and Syngenta’s Karate have various side effects including respiratory problems, skin irritation and are also known to cause cancer and/or damage to various organs of human body.
It is, therefore, necessary to use the nutrient-based mixture or organic products like neem oil to control pests instead of using expensive chemicals. Interestingly, organic pests are also easily available in the market. With more and more people interested in sustainable farming, many are coming up with valuable home-made recipes and ingredients that are changing the face of Indian agriculture.
Alternatively, one can also use a well-planned inter-cropping that safeguards the plantation from any sort of pests or insects. For instance, if you plant a row full of garlic in between every 4th and 5th row of your tomato plant, it will not only keep insects and worms away from your main crop but also help you to earn some extra income by selling that garlic. Surrounding the entire farm by marigold is another way to keep insects and pests away from your plant.
Optimum Use of Nutrients Instead of Pesticides and Toxic Weedicides
We are well versed that prevention is better than cure. Just like a healthy baby who is fed with balanced diet has high immunity, a well-nourished plant with the right amount of primary, secondary and micronutrient remains highly immune; protecting itself from almost all sort of pests, diseases, and infections. Using this method along with the above methods, a farmer cannot only maintain the health of the crop at a minimum cost and investment but also increase the yield as well as profit.
Sustainable agriculture, therefore, has immense capability to transform the face of Indian agriculture as well as the financial reality of Indian farmers. Nevertheless, it is something that is not only ecologically sound, socially responsible but also very economically viable for farmers across the world.