Finding sustainable and efficient ways for conserving our agricultural lands is crucial for ensuring that the food on our planet stays abundant.
The best way to conserve agricultural land is to practice environmentally sound farming practices, limit pollution, manage our resources, establish protected lands for agriculture, and develop conscientious development projects. In addition, we must all make certain dietary lifestyle changes.
We often forget just how precious our agricultural land is and how fragile it can be when not properly taken care of. The quality of life we have all gotten quite used to has spoiled us with the illusion that food is something that we can take for granted. In reality, it wasn’t so long ago that our accessibility to food was something that was considered a luxury. With that being said, we’ve had to learn the hard way how to responsibly and sustainably grow our food so that we can continue to conserve our agricultural lands for future generations. Let’s dive into some of the ways that we conserve our agricultural land.
Agricultural conservation is enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture. This government department ensures that our food is grown in a way that is in line with environmental standards, which aim to mitigate or eliminate harm being done to our agricultural lands.
Practicing Agricultural Conservation
Prior to the 20th century, most approaches that were taken for growing food were traditional farming techniques that had been used for hundreds and even thousands of years. These traditional approaches were never put into question as they seemed to deliver results without any environmental harm being done.
It wasn’t until the rise of the industrial farming complex that we began to experience the harm of unsustainable farming practices. Initially, industrial farming appeared to be groundbreaking for our agricultural needs as it presented a more efficient way of growing food that maximized our quantity of food.
However, it wasn’t until years of following this agricultural approach that we discovered that these farming techniques were creating great harm to our environment. This began to put one of our most vital natural resources at risk, which meant that our entire ability to grow food was being put in jeopardy.
It became evident that some form of serious change needed to take place to ensure that we will not lose our soil, which is why farmers and the rest of society began adopting revised approaches for growing food. Since then, many of these practices have been carried out throughout the United States and have become mandatory agricultural practices. These are some of the ways that we practice agricultural conservation in our society.
Given that our farmers are responsible for delivering our food and ensuring that it stays plentiful, it’s vital that they approach their farming practices in a way that is in line with long-term sustainability.
After decades of poor farming practices, we saw the damage that can occur to our soil when we grow our food without environmental consideration. As industrial farming gained momentum and yield quantity increased, the approaches that Big Agro took carried on without question.
It was, however, during this time that we began to see a huge change in the health of our soil. As our soil began to be depleted of its vital nutrients, the quality and quantity of our food began to take a steep decline. When this occurs, the nutrients from our soil can actually be completely exhausted, which results in the soil being damaged for decades or even longer.
This led to a complete reform of how we view our agricultural land and forced farmers to restrategize how to approach growing food in a way that is in line with agricultural conservation and sustainability. Here are some of the farming practices that were initiated to conserve our agricultural lands.
For centuries we have been utilizing a traditional farming technique known as crop rotation. This straightforward farming technique involves changing the type of crop being grown in the soil after each harvest.
The industrial farming complex capitalized on single-crop farms, as it appeared to be more efficient for growing food. However, they soon found out that by harvesting crops in this way they were causing great environmental harm to the nutrients of the soil.
The reason for this is that each individual crop tends to prefer specific nutrients that exist in the soil. When just a single crop is grown on a farm, that nutrient is depleted from the soil completely over time. Farmers realized this after causing permanent damage to a lot of our lands and began adopting crop rotation as a solution.
After this dilemma, the United States Department of Agriculture now mandates that crop rotation be implemented in practically all harvest cycles.
A common issue that many large-scale farms experience is land degradation and erosion. To combat this issue, farmers implement a technique called buffer strips to avoid erosion and other agricultural complications.
Buffer strips can be seen on just about every farm that grows multiple crops. They can be seen in the form of vegetation which serves as a barrier between crops, irrigation, and roads. Buffer strips help contain the structure of soil and keep the ground which the crops are on from eroding over time.
In addition, buffer strips are extremely useful for dealing with things like pollution control. Given the number of pesticides and other pollutants that runoff from farms, buffer strips effectively block or filter this runoff.
The use of mulch essentially just entails adding some form of organic material into the crop growing cycle. The type of mulch most commonly used would be sawdust, dried leaves, woodchips, and other organic waste.
This mulch has a couple of different purposes but the most important is to continue the breakdown of organic nutrients in the soil in between harvest cycles. By adding mulch into the soil and mixing it into the ground, the soil is able to stay fertile and healthy year-round.
In addition, mulch is often also placed on top of the soil, which then acts as a thermal barrier to protect the soil from frost and snow during the winter months. This mulch layer may also serve as protection from extreme winds, which can blow away vital topsoil.
Much like our air and water, our soil can also be exposed to pollution - and often one form of pollution tends to trickle down to another.
A major problem of soil pollution is that it not only affects the quality of our soil but also enters the food that we eat. This can prove to be extremely troubling if pollutants from agriculture and other waste enter our food before there is a recall initiated.
There are a lot of different ways that pollutants find their way into our soil and the level of harm that comes from them varies across the board; some directly affect the quality of our soil whereas some runoff and tend to cause more harm to others parts of the environment. Let’s take a look at some of the different types of pollutants that enter our soil.
One of the most common ways that soil pollution occurs on our agricultural lands is through the use of pesticides. We have become highly dependant on pesticides for growing our food and have in many ways become addicted to them.
After initially using pesticides to combat bugs and other pests, we have found out that pests adapt to our chemicals over time. This forces us to create more and more harmful chemicals to combat our pests, which traps us in a vicious cycle.
There are a couple of ways to deal with pesticides to conserve our agricultural lands
Much like how our crops tend to prefer specific nutrients within our soil, our pests tend to prefer specific crops that we grow.
By practicing crop rotation we are essentially killing two birds with one stone, as we are able to keep our soil nutrients healthy - while at the same time able to mitigate the number of pesticides needed to combat bugs.
The reason for this is that the number of pests that build up in farms that don’t rotate their crops skyrockets.
Before the 20th century, the only way that all found was grown was through organic farming practices.
This natural and traditional way of farming is seeing a huge comeback as society sees the environmental value of going back to this old way of growing food. It must be said, that organic farming does take substantially more work and tends to deliver a smaller yield, which is technically less efficient and less profitable.
However, by adopting organic farming we are able to completely eliminate our use of pesticides and prevent an enormous amount of soil pollution in the process.
Urban & Industrial Waste
One of the biggest threats to agricultural conservation is the mismanagement of waste from urban environments and the industrial complex. It’s easy to forget that a lot of the waste and pollutants from our urban cities tend to end up in all of the wrong places - whether it’s into our ocean or directly into our soil.
Pollution from things like gasoline enters the ground and can cause severe damages to potential agricultural soil, which may end up being useless - especially if done on a large scale. This can be dealt with by driving a more eco-friendly vehicle that is either hybrid or fully electric.
However, one of the biggest threats to conserving our agricultural land comes directly from big industries - factories, refineries, and sometimes the agricultural complex itself. These large industries dump waste and pollutants at a much larger scale than any individual, which significantly increases the amount of harm being done to our soil.
This can be seen in runoff from large farms or even the deliberate dumping of toxic waste. Regardless, it all generally ends up creating pollution in our soil in some way or another.
Water Resource Management
In addition to the importance of conserving our soil’s nutrients for growing food, the next important resource to protect is our freshwater.
The common misconception of freshwater is that it is abundant on our planet. In actuality, it is one of the scarcest with less than 1% of all water on Earth being freshwater that is accessible to us, which is why it is absolutely vital that we cherish this precious resource. Let’s explore how we can conserve our water for agricultural land.
A lot of our water becomes tainted and unusable due to a lack of ethical practices conducted by industries. One of the best ways to prevent our water from becoming polluted is to first identify where pollutants may be coming from.
After identifying the industries that are responsible for polluting our freshwater, we need to be able to hold them accountable. This can prove to be challenging due to the lobbying that these industries are capable of and the grasp they tend to have on politicians.
To prevent industries from having the upper hand and getting away with their actions with impunity, we need to create policies that force them to take responsibility for mismanaging their waste. This would entail forcing industries to adapt to modern environmental regulations and also be responsible for restoring the damages that they have caused.
Livestock and Agricultural Waste
As we mentioned above, a lot of our soil pollution occurs from agricultural waste from pesticides - much is the same for water.
However, a major contributor to water pollution actually comes from the meat industry and especially cattle. These animals tend to be kept in highly unsanitary conditions are generally only thoroughly cleaned before they are ready for export.
With that being said, these animals are washed regularly to maintain basic environmental sanitation laws. The problem with this occurs when farmers mismanage the runoff from all of the waste that comes off of their livestock. This generally means that the waste will go directly into our soil or oftentimes even nearby freshwater channels.
The problem with livestock gets so much worse when we take into consideration just how much water is needed to produce livestock and meat in general. It takes just under 2,000 gallons of water to produce just a single pound of beef! Given that water is such a scarce resource in our society, it would be wise to either limit the number of cattle we produce.
Modernized Farming Equipment
An unfortunate aspect of water management in farming is that so much of it is wasted simply on outdated equipment that lacks efficiency.
Many farmers are still using farming equipment that is nearly half a century old in some cases, which wastes a considerable amount of water. By re-investing in modernized farming equipment that is efficient for water consumption farmers would be able to conserve a considerable amount of this resource for future agricultural needs.
In addition, farmers are often overusing the amount of water that they need for their crops without optimizing the timers that they have on their sprinklers. Today there is a lot of modernized approaches that directly help farmers conserve water and other resources through various apps linked to their equipment.
What is worth considering is that not only will adapting to these modernized farming technologies save water but it will also save money for the farmer, as they are able to optimize the amount of energy and water they need to grow their crops.
The great thing about conserving agricultural land is that we can all take part in ensuring that our farming needs are dealt with responsibly. Given that we as consumers are buyers of all of these agricultural products, we have a lot of power to dictate the direction that Big Agro heads in.
This is why we are seeing a huge shift in people’s food choices and dietary preferences in recent years. People are choosing to eat food that is better for the environment and directly benefits our agricultural lands.
As mentioned above, the meat industry and animal products, in general, are the largest consumers of water in the entire nation. The best way to help conserve water and help our agricultural lands is to mitigate or completely cut meat and animal products out of our diets.
By switching over to a diet that is predominantly plant-based, we are able to create a significant change in how our water is used in agriculture.
Agricultural Land Protection
Throughout the United States, we have millions of acres of land that have been designated specifically for conservation, which range to every from outdoor recreation to farming. These conservation lands are essential in ensuring that we have an abundance of areas for agriculture.
We can commonly see farmlands that have been set up specifically for conservation agriculture and are then generally under permanent protection from development. A great way to continue to conserve our agricultural lands is to set up more land areas that fall under this protection.
These are some of the ways we can directly conserve agricultural land.
There is a lot of land within our nation that is classified as conservation land yet is technically privately owned. This is generally due to the land undergoing a conversion process known as a conservation easement.
Through this process, a land trust organization acquires a private or public plot of land that it deems worthy of some form of environmental protection. It’s common to see these conservation easements in place for things like habitat and wildlife protection, however, you can also find a lot of land trusts that acquire land specifically for agricultural conservation. Here are a few reputable land trust organizations:
- American Farmland Trust
- Friends Of The Earth International
- National Black Farmers Association
In addition, conservation easements are also done on an individual level without a land trust, as private property owners also acquire these properties to protects farmland.
Bureau of Land Management & Other Public Lands
The United States Federal Government owns a lot of public lands that fall into a grey area. A huge portion of it falls under the Bureau of Land Management, which is public land intended for conservation use.
However, although the lands from the Bureau of Land Management are conservation lands, their level of environmental protection is not as clear or solidified. A lot of these lands can actually be purchased by private individuals, which makes their conservation not as safe from real estate investors.
While the United States Department of Agriculture plays a huge role in granting subsidies to farmers, as well as easements, our government could be taking a bigger stance on conserving potential agricultural lands.
The best way to achieve this would be for government organizations that own a considerable amount of land to survey their various plots for rich soil and ideal farming conditions. If the survey shows that certain lands are favorable for future food growing, then placing them under strict conservation regulation and protection would ensure that they continue to be available for later agricultural use.
Community Supported Agriculture & Home Gardens
A great way to directly be part of conserving agricultural lands is to either join a community-supported agriculture program or create your own.
Community-supported agriculture is essentially a small farming operation that is generally located within or nearby an urban environment. These can be seen in cities in the form of small community vegetable patches and orchards or even mid-sized farming operations.
You can get involved in a community-supported agriculture program by directly joining and volunteering your time to help grow food for yourself and your community or you can subscribe to a monthly or weekly membership to the program where food is delivered to your door. This is a great way to conserve agricultural land, as it brings farming to urbanized areas where there typically isn’t an agricultural operation taking place.
Alternatively, you can take matters into your own hands and convert your backyard or part of your backyard into a home garden. This gives you full control over the food that you grow and allows you to conserve agricultural land right at home.
About THE AUTHOR
James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.Read More About James Parker