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April 10, 2019

Sustainable Farming and Land Use: Rural Land Loans

Discover key sustainable farming and agricultural practices that may result in benefits to both the environment and your bottom line.

‘Sustainability’ has become a buzzword in the agriculture industry, and for good reason.

In short, the goal of sustainable agriculture is to meet society’s current food and textile needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Practitioners of sustainable agriculture typically seek to integrate three main objectives into their work: a healthy environment, economic profitability, and social and economic equity.

Although sustainable farming can look different for everyone, we’ve compiled five of the top sustainable practices that many growers and ranchers across the nation are implementing (and with which they’re finding serious success).

Read on to find out how you can make your operation more sustainable—and possibly even more productive and profitable.

1. Crop Rotation and Crop Diversity

For centuries, farmers have used crop rotation as a way to keep soil healthy and avoid depleting it entirely of nutrients, which can happen with monoculture—the agricultural practice of growing a single crop in a field at a time. With crop rotation, different crops are planted in different locations over several years in such a way that the succeeding crop helps replenish the nutrients the previous one has taken out of the soil, or vice versa. Crop rotation can also help prevent diseases; most diseases attack a single crop, so rotating can remove them from the site.

If planting lots of different species of crops isn’t possible or doesn’t make sense in a particular marketplace, farmers can still benefit from planting diverse varieties of one species. Having multiple varieties makes the crop stronger because there’s more genetic diversity, which means it’s less likely to suffer from diseases or pest problems.

2. Cover Crops and Reduced Till or No-Till Farming

During the off-season, planting cover crops like hairy vetch or clovers can be beneficial as they can build and protect the health of the soil by replenishing soil nutrients, preventing soil erosion, and hindering the growth of weeds, thus reducing the need for herbicides later on.

Another way to preserve soil is through reduced till or no-till farming methods. By inserting all seeds directly into unplowed ground, farmers can improve the quality of their soil while preventing soil erosion.

3. Beneficial Insects and Animals

A diverse variety of crops will attract a wide range of insects and other creatures, such as birds and bats, some of which will destroy critters that could damage crops. Natural predator-prey relationships enable farmers to reduce or eliminate their use of chemical pesticides that can cause ecological problems by running off the land into the water table and bodies of water—that results in cost savings, too, making it a smart and easy choice for many farmers.

Farmers looking to implement the beneficial animal strategy can also release populations of helpful insects, like ladybugs and lacewings onto their crops to control pests. Planting flowers that attract insects along the edges of their crop fields is another technique that helps to attract and retain birds and bats. Farmers should also ensure their land has plenty of trees. When trees are planted around a water source, they can help prevent loss of water through evaporation during dry seasons, while also helping to prevent soil erosion.

4. Managed Grazing

Similar to crop rotation (only with animals rather than plants), managed grazing essentially involves moving livestock to different pastures so they can graze on different plants. This helps ensure animals are consuming a healthy range of nutrients, and it means they’re less likely to be exposed to build-ups of disease or infection, which can occur if they are kept on the same pasture for an extended period of time. Plus, moving livestock between pastures is good for the soil.

Fourth-generation rancher Cory Carman, who practices “holistic management” in Oregon, implements managed grazing and has found great success. Carman constantly moves her cattle and pays careful attention to the rate of growth of both her animals and grasses, and through this system, her steers select the forages they need to grow and gain weight while grasses get clipped, trampled down, and fertilized with manure—that results in vibrant fields that retain water, resist drought, contain abundant organic matter, and are highly productive without the addition of fertilizer.

The Birdwell and Clark Ranch in Henrietta, Texas was awarded the National Cattlemen’s Association’s 2018 Environmental Stewardship Award for their sustainability efforts. Spanning 14,000 acres, the ranch was founded by Emry Birdwell and Deborah Clark in 2004. They rotate their herd of 5,000 stocker cattle through their 340 paddocks roughly three to six times a day depending on the size of the paddock and the quality of the grass available. This managed grazing plan prevents overgrazing, encourages plant diversity, and helps break up and mix manure into the soil. It has even encouraged a resurgence of eastern gama grasses which has been overgrazed on most Texas ranches.

5. Selling Directly to the Local Community

Finally, one of the biggest causes of greenhouse gases is transportation by vehicles using fuel derived from fossil fuels, so eliminating or reducing food transportation by selling locally can be incredibly impactful when it comes to being more sustainable. Additionally, food sold locally typically requires less packaging—another boon to the environment that can result in cost savings as well.

Farmers can opt to sell directly to consumers at local markets, via community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, or they can use intermediaries or middlemen, such as cooperatives, food hubs, retailers, restaurants, and schools, to help them distribute their products locally.

AgAmerica Customizes Loan Packages For Your Farm’s Needs

If you are looking to expand your sustainable farm operation, we offer a spectrum of lending solutions to help you fund your farm and ranch operations. Our customizable loan packages, including rural land loans, are designed to support U.S. farmers from coast to coast. Contact us today to learn more about how we can serve you.

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