What Is Conservation Farming?

Crystal Cook

Conservation farming is a combination of agricultural methods that protects the environment while producing more crops. Protecting the soil, providing plants with better food and water, and rotating crops are all methods used to conserve farmland. Natural fertilization, such as manure, is used to avoid harmful fertilizers.

Manure adds nutrients of potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen to soil.
Manure adds nutrients of potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen to soil.

Farming is one of the most destructive practices carried out by humans, because the most popular methods often damage the soil, resulting in smaller crop yields year after year. Conservation farming encourages the use of no-till farming, which is a method of planting seeds in narrow beds using a planter that will cut through the ground and a seed slot opener that makes a slot for seeds to be dropped in. Other green farming methods of planting include ridge-tilling, in which seeds are planted in raised ridges, and strip-tilling, in which plants are placed in strips plowed in the field. Both methods require two-thirds less soil to be disturbed compared to traditional tilling methods.

Conservation farming avoids the use of potential harmful chemical fertilizers.
Conservation farming avoids the use of potential harmful chemical fertilizers.

These conservation farming methods disturb the soil less, so there is less erosion. Tilling one-third of the soil loosens it enough that water will saturate the ground better instead of washing the soil away. Wind also will not have as much of an effect on the soil. Plants develop better root systems in loosened soil and are better able to access the minerals and water needed for optimal growth.

Plowing grass and weeds into a field creates a natural fertilizer.
Plowing grass and weeds into a field creates a natural fertilizer.

Crop rotation is a farming method that has been used for hundreds of years. In conservation farming, rotating more than two different crops is encouraged. Weeds and insects are not able to gain a foothold in fields when crops are being rotated, meaning infestations may become a thing of the past. A field's infrastructure can be built up using crop rotation, because changing the crops grown will develop rooting zones that encourage water to fully infiltrate the field. Different crops require different nutrients, and crop rotation ensures that nutrients are not completely depleted, which will produce larger harvests.

Chemical fertilizers are a major source of pollution from farms. The natural fertilizers promoted by conservation farming help to enrich the soil and do not cause pollution. One method used to naturally fertilize farmland is to plow a field in such a way as to uproot any weeds or grass, which will deteriorate and provide essential nutrients to the soil. Another method is to allow grazing animals to graze on fields that are not in use. The manure produced by the animals is a natural fertilizer that makes the soil more fertile for the next planting season.

Rotating crops and grasses is one element of conservation farming that preserves the land.
Rotating crops and grasses is one element of conservation farming that preserves the land.

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Discussion Comments

pastanaga

@MrsPramm - Hopefully we will get better and better at conservation farming over time and consumers will become more adamant about wanting to buy products that have been grown with this in mind.

It's not as efficient, but I do think, in the long run, it's better even for the bottom line.

MrsPramm

@KoiwiGal - The problem with humans has always been that as a collective we might have a lot of knowledge and foresight, but as individuals we are more concerned with what is directly in front of us. Farmers aren't arch-villains, cackling over the fact that they are "destroying the Earth". They are just doing the best they can for themselves and their families.

And humanity is starting to change their ways, which is why conservation farming is becoming such a powerful movement. I actually think it's far more important than organic farming, because I think the focus needs to be away from banning every single chemical, and kept on the long term health of the soil.

KoiwiGal

Humans have always struggled with long-term agriculture. You would think we would learn over time that you can't just continually take nutrients out of the soil without damaging it.

Apparently one of the factors that led to the fall of Ancient Rome was the fact that they had established such extensive aquaducts and were pumping water out of the ground from deep wells, that they ended up salting the fields. The water they used was so rich in minerals from being underground that eventually the crops began to fail leading to widespread starvation.

There was no way for them to realize why this was happening, so it was merely a tragedy. Whereas modern people know exactly what they are doing to destroy their soils and refuse to change their ways. That makes it more of a travesty.

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