- Photo: Massive soil erosion on the Loess Plateau, northern China, resulting from farmers forced to forego agricultural best practices in the 1950s. © 2007 Delena Norris-Tull
Agricultural best practices
Summaries of the research and commentary by Dr. Delena Norris-Tull, Professor Emerita of Science Education, University of Montana Western, July 2020.
In a 1995 USDA report on soil erosion in the USA, Magleby, et al., reported that, “Recent incentive programs for protecting highly erodible lands include payments for retiring vulnerable lands from agricultural production and placing them under permanent vegetative cover. Leaving more crop residue on the soil surface has proved effective in conserving soil. Other techniques have included water management, contour farming, grassed waterways, and terraces.” Magleby’s report provides a good overview of the causes of soil erosion, and the effectiveness of the various Federal and State programs that have been used as incentives to engage farmers in soil conservation efforts.
“Agriculture can be part of U.S. efforts to control greenhouse gases if farmers and ranchers take actions to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions or increase carbon sequestration. These actions may include reducing tillage intensity, reducing the amount of nitrogen applied to crops, switching to fertilizer application methods with lower emissions, changing livestock or manure management practices to reduce methane emissions, shifting crop rotations to include a greater proportion of perennial crops, reducing the frequency and duration of flooding of rice paddies, planting grass or trees, or enhancing grassland or forest management” (Horowitz, et al., 2010).
With the USA, the Regional IPM Centers provide some coordination between four Regional Integrated Pest Management Centers. Each Center provides some funding for projects on rangelands and in agricultural settings, some of which address issues related to Pest Management.
Climate-Smart Agricultural Practices
The World Economic Forum (WEF) developed a report, Transforming Food Systems with Farmers, to assist the European Union nations in developing sustainable agricultural practices, practices the WEF calls Climate-Smart Agriculture.
The report states that, “if just an additional 20% of farmers adopted climate-smart agriculture, by 2030, the EU could reduce its annual agricultural GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions by 6% and improve soil health over an area equivalent to 14% of EU’s agricultural land while improving farmer livelihoods by between €1.9 and €9.3 billion annually” (WEF, 2022, page 4).
The WEF recommends 28 climate-smart agricultural practices, which are listed on page 7 of the report. A number of those practices are also elaborated on in within this website.
Move away from large scale agricultural practices & monocultures
In a global study of the status of family farms, Graeub, et al., 2016, reported that “globally family farms constitute over 98% of all farms, and work on 53% of agricultural land. Across distinct contexts, family farming plays a critical role for global food production…. There are approximately 500 million family farmers in the world who produce 80% of the world’s food.” Small scale agriculture has much to offer for the future of sustainable farming. Graeub, et al., 2016, found that “a much improved measurement, and understanding, of the role of family farmers is needed to inform policies related to food security and sustainable development.” In 2014, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) redefined family farms as “a means of organizing agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral and aquaculture production which is managed and operated by a family and predominantly reliant on family labor, including both women’s and men’s. The family and the farm are linked, co-evolve and combine economic, environmental, social and cultural functions.”
Small scale agriculture engages many more people in agriculture. It facilitates the use of more manual labor, which provides farmers with better alternatives to chemicals and traditional soil tillage. It also facilitates crop rotation and intercropping, a technique that allows multiple crops to be grown together, which helps reduce invasions by noxious weeds exacerbated by the monocultures prevalent in large-scale agriculture. Having multiple crops also facilitates additional beneficial insects within the cropping system, which increases the number of insect species that can assist in pollinating crops and in reducing the insects that damage crops.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [FAO]. (2013). Food wastage footprint: Impacts on natural resources. Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
- Graeub, B.E., Chappell, M.J., Wittman, H., Ledermann, Bezner Kerr, S.R., & Gemmill-Herren, B. (2016). The state of family farms in the world. World Development, 87: 1-15.
- Horowitz, J., Ebel, R., & Ueda, K. (Nov., 2010). “No-till” farming is a growing practice. USDA Economic Information Bulletin, No. 70. USDA Economic Research Service. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/44512/8086_eib70.pdf?v=0
- Magleby, R., Sandretto, C., Crosswhite, W., & Osborn, C.T. (Oct., 1995). Soil erosion and conservation in the United States: An overview (Agricultural Information Bulletin-718). An Economic Research Service Report, USDA Natural Resources & Environment Division. Herndon, VA: USDA. https://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/CAT10712833/PDF
- World Economic Forum. (April 2022). Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU. World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Deloitte & NTT Data.
Links to Agricultural Best Practices:
- Ecologically based Successional Management
- Perennial Crops, Intercropping, beneficial insects
- Soil Solarization
- Natural Farming
- Organic Farming
- Embedding Natural Habitats
- Conservation Tillage
- Crop Rotation
- Water Use Practices
- Tree Planting: Pros & Cons
Links to more Innovative Solutions: