The farming industry has developed a strange relationship with ecology over the past years. These two have been maligned by claims that they greedily suck up water from the people and nature, pollute the countryside with pesticides, shoot native species, and while at the same time producing food many of us subsist on.
A new approach to farming is necessary for the purposes of safeguarding human health as well as to avoid increasing water and air pollution, biodiversity loss and high greenhouse gas emissions, as concluded by a group of 20 leading nutrition, health, agronomists and social scientists.
Rather than the uniform crop monocultures which are now dominating farming worldwide, or giant feedlots for rearing animals, the solution is re-orienting agriculture around ecological practices and diversifying it. The benefits of switching to a more ecologically oriented farming system would be evident in animal and human health, with improvements in water and soil quality ecosystem services that our annual cropping systems could potentially provide food and fuel, pest control, clean water, climate stabilization through Greenhouse gas mitigation, and soil fertility.
There are five major ecological solutions for the farming industry. The solutions are provided to differing degrees in various systems and interacting in sometimes unexpected ways. In many respects, however, their delivery comes in bundles which can be highly complementary. Also before reading this article you if you interested in such career you can read this natural resources essay to have some more information on topic.
1. Provision of pest protection through biocontrol services
At the landscape scale, biodiversity affects agriculture’s capacity to deliver ecosystem services, especially the ones related to water quality and biocontrol. For instance, ladybird beetles are important predators of aphids. In KBS LTER soybeans, these beetles are responsible for most control of soybean aphid, making it possible to keep aphid populations below economic thresholds.
Since various coccinellid species use various habitats at different times to forage or for other purposes like over-wintering, within a landscape, diversity of habitats becomes a key predictor of biocontrol efficacy.
2. Providing clean water
The quality of water that drains from agricultural watersheds becomes a longstanding environmental problem. Sediment, nitrate and phosphorus are important pollutants leaving cropland and leading to compromised groundwater, marine ecosystems and surface freshwaters worldwide.
Phosphorus and sediment loadings can be reduced substantially using management practices which are appropriate. No other conservation tillage methods can substantially reduce the runoff and often eliminate erosion which also carries phosphorus to surface waters, as riparian plantings along cropland waterways can.
Nitrate mitigation is more problematic, being so mobile in soil, it is carried to groundwater reservoirs, residing for days before emerging in surface waters and then carried downstream and eventually to coastal marine systems.
3. Providing food, fuel, and fiber
To an ever-increasing extent, we are dependent on high yields from intensively managed, simplified row-crop ecosystems for the provisioning. The results from long-term experiments suggest that more-complex rotations with the use of fewer inputs provide greater or similar yields than those of conventional rotations. The results, therefore, suggest that simpler major grains rotations can be managed to provide other ecosystem services, as well.
4. Providing greenhouse gas mitigation
The farming industry is directly responsible for approximately 10–14% of the total annual global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. It is largely the result of N2O which is emitted from manure and soil and ruminant animals which emit methane and burned crop residues.
Mitigating some portion of the footprint will therefore significantly contribute to climate stabilization, as might cellulosic biofuels production if used to offset fossil fuel use.
5. Providing soil fertility, the basis for sustained crop production
As a supporting solution underpinning the provision of other services, soil fertility is a deliverable service and under management control. In its absence, fertility must be enhanced with external inputs of greater quantities, such as fertilizers, and the system will be less able to withstand extreme events like drought.
Feeding the world sustainably requires protecting the ecological resources which are essential for the production of food now and in days to come. As opposed to producing more food under ecologically destructive and unequal conditions, the solution to hunger hinges on creating a more democratic, sustainable, and fair food ecosystem for all.