Agriculture faces several challenges today. Climate change and environmental disruption adversely affect agricultural productivity and food security. Rapid increase in agricultural productivity is a result of green revolution. However, it negatively affects the state of natural resources, threatening future productive capacity.
In the industrial agriculture system, the crops are grown to feed the livestock, and the animals fertilize the crops. Growing animal feed in monoculture systems relies heavily on applying pesticides and various chemical fertilizers. In addition, animals kept in separate facilities generate large amounts of waste. Such systems result in soil depletion and an increase in the amount of toxic waste.
Its fertility depends on the health of the soil, and this is the only way to protect crops from pests and diseases and ensure their development. Sustainable crop production is impossible without healthy soil. Proper management of nutrients and water and soil resources helps to prevent problems with the threats caused by pesticide use and excessive water consumption, even though most crops have major pests that threaten even healthy plants.
Soil management plays a critical role in sustainable crop production and helps develop the environmental sustainability of agriculture. Sustainable farming systems require protected and sustainably cultivated soil to increase stability and productivity. The fertility and stability of soil resources can be improved by applying safe and effective soil conservation practices, including nitrogen fixation.
Growing cover crops is a crucial practice in maintaining soil health. This approach has several advantages in slowing down erosion, increasing water availability, and controlling weeds, pests, and diseases. In addition, cover crops increase soil biodiversity and enable nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil.
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Plants need nitrogen for proper development; farmers can provide enough nitrogen by growing nitrogen-fixing plants. Legumes are nitrogen-fixing plants. Moreover, these plants will be useful by adding organic matter to the soil, increasing its fertility, and attracting pollinating insects, both of which, in turn, contribute to increased yields. This practice also contributes to increasing the resistance of crops to intense variable rainfall and dry conditions.
Compost also plays a critical role in maintaining soil health. Composting, when properly made and used, makes the soil structure more diverse and contributes significantly to the maintenance of biodiversity. Proper compost has a crumbly texture and many tiny pockets holding moisture in. Applying compost helps the soil stick together and become more resistant to erosion. Microfauna is a crucial addition to soil biodiversity, and aerated compost is exactly where it lives.
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It is also vital to maintain the life of various microorganisms, nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and fungi. They perform different essential functions that are necessary for the conversion of nutrients and control over the population of multiple microbes. Variety is a critical characteristic of compost to make the soil more productive.
Minimal or no tillage practices
Conservation tillage, also called minimum tillage, is a sustainable practice that involves minimal soil disturbance. This processing also involves leaving plant residues on the ground without removal or incorporation into the ground. Typically, minimal tillage is further reduced to no-tillage.
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This method leads to several environmental improvements and is essential for several reasons. Crop residue helps prevent soil erosion by keeping the topsoil protected. This leads to an improvement in soil structure and eliminates the use of equipment that, due to its weight, makes the soil compacted. In addition, minimal tillage allows you to maintain and even increase the population of earthworms, which contributes to soil aeration. Another essential benefit of this practice is reducing or eliminating the use of fossil fuels on the farm.
Organic mulch is another effective method of soil conservation. This practice allows you to suppress some weeds and increases the amount of organic matter. Organic mulch has several other noteworthy benefits, including maintaining optimum soil temperature and retaining moisture. Thus, night and day temperatures have a more negligible effect on crop growth.
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Mulch does not allow weeds to grow because it prevents their seedlings from developing. However, the layer of mulch should be thick enough to achieve this effect. Weeds are also suppressed by substances that release various types of mulch, such as grain straw or sorghum. This process is called allelopathy. Mulch helps to keep soil moisturized and prevents temperature fluctuations that also improves crop growth.