Agriculture Conservation

Agriculture Conservation
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, conservation agriculture is “a concept for resource-saving agricultural crop production that strives to achieve acceptable profits together with high and sustained production levels while concurrently conserving the environment” (FAO 2007). In other words, the idea of agriculture conservation is to protect the resources used for agriculture and the rest of the environment, soil, water, air and wildlife habitat, while at the same time keeping production and yields up to feed an ever growing world. There are many different ways of doing this from buffer strips to no-till practices to acres that are put into conservation programs by private owners themselves.

No-till Farming
One of the biggest projects of Agriculture Conservation is the work to convert farmers over to no-till practices. By not tilling in the stubble left over from each year’s crop, it leaves something in place to hold the soil in place, preventing erosion, and inhibits the growth of weeds. It also leaves plant matter there, decomposing, that creates a rich layer of organic material over time, providing fertilizer to a new batch of crops. Because you also don’t spend time or fuel to plow the fields or need as much fertilizer for the crops, it reduces labor and fuel costs to the farmer and the amount of chemical inputs used. There are a few problems with this practice in that it takes time to establish, requires specialized equipment, and with lower yields for a few years as it gets established, can lead to a financial loss for the owner of the lands that are used for this.

No-till farming.jpg
Strip Farming
In this area of the country, we also see the practice of strip farming, also known as strip cropping. This is a method of farming that divides the land into long, parallel strips and alternating ones are left to summer fallow while the others are planted with row crops. This practice allows the soil to rest and regenerate on the fallowed strips while the row crop strips help prevent soil erosion from wind and water by providing areas to slow the wind and the roots to hold the soil in place.

Strip Farming.jpg
Buffer Strips
Buffer strips are another common practice in agriculture conservation. These are strips or areas of land that are covered in permanent vegetation, nothing that is harvested, to prevent soil erosion, chemical runoff from fields, and water runoff across the land. There are many different kinds, each specially designed to help in a specific different way. Many of these buffer strips also double as wildlife habitat, promoting biodiversity. Other benefits of buffer strips are removal of pesticides, removal of pathogens and heavy metals, reduction of noise and odor, and the ability to stabilize waterways running through agricultural land. Often times buffers are placed in areas that can’t or shouldn’t be used in agricultural production.

Buffer strips.jpg
Agriculture and Water Pollution
Eutrophication often happens when agriculture chemicals such as nitrogen and phosphorus run off fields into local waterways. All of these practices are to protect the natural resources around us, in particular the soil and water. Water pollution by agriculture is a particular concern and many mitigation efforts are aimed at trying to control this. Agricultural runoff of minerals, chemicals, and pathogens (from animal farms) enters waterways, making it unsafe for human use or consumption without significant treatment. Some of the most common chemicals that run off farmland are nitrogen and phosphorous, applied as fertilizers to help plant growth. When these chemicals enter waterways, they cause algae blooms which can cause fish kills and eutrophication (excessive plant growth and low oxygen conditions) of ecosystems. Other dangerous runoff includes ammonia, nitrates, antibiotics and growth hormones, heavy metals, salts, organic matter and different pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms).

Eutrophication.jpg
References
For more information, please see:
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 2006. Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department. Rome, Italy Available from http://www.fao.org/ag/magazine/0110sp.htm
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 2007. Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department. Rome, Italy Available from http://www.fao.org/ag/ca/
Wikipedia- Conservation Agriculture
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_agriculture
United States Department of Agriculture
http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=conservation
United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service- Buffer Strips
http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/newsroom/features/?cid=nrcs143_023568
http://www.sustainabletable.org/267/water-quality#types

Merriam-Webster Dictionary- Strip cropping
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/strip%20cropping
http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/?id=1326743760671