Category Archives: Conservation farming

Dry Farming

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Fields in the Palouse, Washington State

Dryland farming and dry farming are agricultural techniques for non-irrigated cultivation of crops. Dryland farming is associated with drylands; dry farming is often associated with areas characterized by a cool wet season followed by a warm dry season.

Dry farming is not to be confused with rainfed agriculture. Rainfed agriculture refers to crop production that occurs during a rainy season. Dry farming, on the other hand, refers to crop production during a dry season, utilizing the residual moisture in the soil from the rainy season, usually in a region that receives 20” or more of annual rainfall. Dry farming works to conserve soil moisture during long dry periods primarily through a system of tillage, surface protection, and the use of drought-resistant varieties.

Dryland farming locations

Dryland farming is used in the Great Plains, the Palouse plateau of Eastern Washington, and other arid regions of North America such as in the South-western United States and Mexico (see Agriculture in the Southwestern United States and Agriculture in the prehistoric Southwest), the Middle East and in other grain growing regions such as the steppes of Eurasia and Argentina. Dryland farming was introduced to southern Russia and Ukraine by Slavic Mennonites under the influence of Johann Cornies, making the region the breadbasket of Europe. In Australia, it is widely practiced in all states but the Northern Territory.

Dry farmed crops

Dry farmed crops may include grapes, tomatoes, pumpkins, beans, winter wheat, corn, beans, Sunflowers or even watermelon and other summer crops. These crops grow using the winter water stored in the soil, rather than depending on rainfall during the growing season. Dry farming process

Dry farming depends on making the best use of the “bank” of soil moisture that was created by winter rainfall. Dry farming is not a yield maximization strategy; rather it allows nature to dictate the true sustainability of agricultural production in a region. Dry farming as “a soil tillage technique, is the art of working the soil; starting as early as possible when there is a lot of moisture in the soil, working the ground, creating a sponge-like environment so that the water comes from down below, up into the sponge. You press it down with a roller or some other implement to seal the top…so the water can’t evaporate and escape out.” Some dry farming practices include:

  • Wider than normal spacing, to provide a larger bank of moisture for each plant.
  • Controlled Traffic
  • No-till/zero-till or minimum till
  • Strict weed control, to ensure that weeds do not consume soil moisture needed by the cultivated plants.
  • Cultivation of soil to produce a “dust mulch”, thought to prevent the loss of water through capillary action. This practice is controversial, and is not universally advocated.
  • Selection of crops and cultivars suited for dry farming practices.

While dry farming is not for every grower or every region, it is a promising system of crop management that offers greater crop security in times of uncertain water supply and can offer a higher-quality product.

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Cropping Sytems- Agroforestry

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Trees being used as a Windbreak

Cropping System

A cropping system mainly refers to the way a crop is grown, arrangement in the field and frequency of production. Different cropping systems and practices are used in the production of crops depending on location, preference, skill and financial capacity.

 

Agroforestry

 Agroforestry is the intentional mixing of trees and shrubs into crop and animal production systems to create environmental, economic, and social benefits.

 The foundation of agroforestry is putting trees to work in conservation and production systems for farms, forests, ranches, and communities. Agroforestry begins with placing the right plant, in the right place, for the right purpose.

Agroforestry is a unique land management approach that provides opportunities to integrate productivity and profitability with environmental stewardship, resulting in healthy and sustainable agricultural systems that can be passed on to future generations.

Agroforestry technologies, when used appropriately, help attain sustainable agricultural land-use systems in many ways. Specifically, agroforestry technologies:

  • Provide protection for valuable topsoil, livestock, crops, and wildlife.
  • Increase productivity of agricultural and horticultural crops.
  • Reduce inputs of energy and chemicals.
  • Increase water use efficiency of plants and animals.
  • Improve water quality.
  • Diversify local economies.
  • Enhance biodiversity and landscape diversity.
  • Reconnect agriculture, people, and communities.

Agroforestry technologies ultimately enhance the quality of life for people. Common cropping systems used in agroforestry includes the following:

  1. Field, farmstead, and livestock windbreaks.
  2. Riparian forest buffers along waterways.
  3. Silvopasture systems with trees, livestock, and forages growing together.
  4. Alley cropping or hedge row cropping– a system where dense hedges of multipurpose (usually leguminous) trees are grown in rows between wider strips of annual crops. The hedges are prunned occasionally to provide mulch and organic matter. The main aim in alley cropping is to improve yields by adding nutrients from the organic matter and nitrogen fixation.
  5. Contour vegetation strip- This system is mainly employed on slopes where rows of trees are interspaced with wider strips of crops. The main aim in this system is to control erosion.
  6. Forest farming– where food, herbal (botanicals), and decorative products are grown under the protection of a managed forest canopy.

Disadvantages of Agroforestry

  • Needs some skill to carry out
  • Trees may harbour pests and diseases
  • Trees may compete with crops if not well spaced

There is a significant opportunity to apply agroforestry practices to address challenges such landscape-scale conservation, climate change, clean and abundant water for communities, biomass energy, and sustainable agriculture. Integrated into individual farm operations and watersheds, agroforestry practices can create and enhance certain desirable functions and outcomes essential for sustainability. The effective application of agroforestry requires leadership and teamwork and its partners in both: (1) developing agroforestry science and tools and (2) delivering agroforestry assistance to the owners/managers of working farms, woodlands, ranches, and communities. Both are essential if we are to realize the many benefits of this unique approach to land management.

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Pros and Cons of Organic Farming

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Some of the Crops Grown Organically at a Farmers Market in Munich

What is Organic Farming?
Organic farming is a technique used in farming without the use of any chemicals or synthetics. Its aim is to produce crops which have the highest nutritional values with least impact on nature. Crop rotation, green manure, use of natural fertilizers and biological pest control form the crux of organic farming. It is a proactive ecology management strategy. This strategy enhances the fertility of the soil, prevents soil erosion and at the same time protects the humans and animal kingdom from the side-effects of chemicals and synthetics. Many of the farm products, like, vegetables, fruit, herbs, meat, milk, eggs, etc. are produced organically by some farmers.

“Organic” as defined by law, implies quality assurance. The words “natural” and “eco-friendly” mean that organic farming techniques might have been used, but it does not necessarily mean completely following organic techniques.

Pros and Cons of Organic Farming
Like everything else, organic farming also has its pros and cons…
The most important of the advantages of organic farming is that it maintains the life of the soil, not only for the current generation, but also for the future generations. Water pollution is reduced with organic farming. Most of the time after it rains, the water from the fields, which contains chemicals, gets drained into the rivers. This pollutes the water bodies. In organic farming, since no chemicals or synthetics are used, water pollution reduces as well.

Organic farming helps in building richer soil. Rich soil is obtained by intelligently rotating crops. The rich soil helps in plant growth. The rate of soil erosion is reduced drastically. A French study has revealed that the nutritional quality and micro-nutrients are present in higher quantities in organically produced crops. The micro-nutrients promote good health. Organically grown food tastes better too. The overall cost of cultivating the crops reduces as the farmers use green manure or worm farming to replenish the lost nutrients of the soil. The other option that the farmers use, is to grow legumes in rotation with other crops. The life of organically grown plants is longer than the plants cultivated by traditional methods. Organically grown crops are more drought tolerant. The chemical fertilizers cause the plant to ripen fast. When the crop does not get water it withers and dies, which is not the case with organic crops.

Along with the pros, there are certain cons too. The first disadvantage is low productivity. With the highly developed chemicals and machinery, the farmer is able to multiply his harvest manifold times. The organic farmers use the cultivation method as opposed to drilling method used by the traditional farmers. The cultivated soil is prone to wind and water erosion. The traditional farmers opine that direct drilling does not cause any disharmony in the soil structure. The next argument is that the organically produced food is expensive. The cost is very often 50-100 percent more than the traditional food. The other valid argument is that organic food is not always available. There is a reason behind that. The organic farmers grow crops in accordance to the season. Neither do they artificially grow any crop nor do they extend the life of the plant or use chemicals, synthetics or pesticides. Therefore, oranges will be found only in winter and mangoes only in summer. Looking at it from the health benefits point of view, there is no doubt that you will benefit if you eat a particular food item, when it is actually in season.

After weighing the pros and cons of organic farming, it is noticed that the pros outweigh the cons. It is therefore best to consume organically grown food, although it is expensive.