Sustainable Agriculture - New Ag International
After spending many years researching with industry, the topic of Sustainable Agriculture comes up time and time again. How do you define Sustainable...
New Ag International eBook Series
Introduction and Contents
How do you define sustainable agriculture? For me it’s about agricultural practices, products and inputs that benefit farmers without causing a harmful impact to the environment. At the same time, it’s also about balancing environmental impact with economic factors.
Throughout this EBOOK we hear from agri leaders, farmers and educators who are passionate about sustainable agriculture. Discover why sustainable agriculture is of critical importance to AlgaEnergy and what we can be doing as an industry to support the development of sustainable solutions for the next generation of farmers!
Naomi Brooker | Portfolio Director | New Ag International
Jump to any article using the contents on the following page, or at any time using the Contents menu in the top left. There you can also download this eBook as a PDF.
Sustainable Agriculture: What does this mean to AlgaEnergy?
Discover what Sustainble Agriculture means to AlgaEnergy and hear directly from Dr Ry Wagner, President of Agribusiness at AlgaEnergy on a range of topics including sustainable packaging, educating farmers and harmonized regulation for biologicals!
For further details please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Microalgae: A sustainable solution for farmers
Microalgae: A unique raw material
AlgaEnergy began with the development of agricultural biostimulants based on microalgae in 2009, a world first. Each biostimulant is made with an optimized combination of different species of microalgae.
AlgaEnergy biostimulants provides the essential elements for a plant´s physiological development increasing crop's performance, optimizing the qualitative traits and reinforcing the plant's resistance to abiotic stresses.
Do you know what microalgae really are?
Sustainable Agriculture: a temporal relation between our past, present and future
by Natalia Franca Rocha, New Ag International
Sustainable Agriculture: a temporal relation between our past, present and future
by Natalia Franca Rocha, Conference Producer - New Ag International
When we think of agriculture, it is only natural that we link agricultural practices to food production, which are alarmingly responsible for up to 13% of environmental harm caused by us, humans, according to WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature). Our planet has never been the same since the Holecene era, when temperatures were stable, season conditions consistent and reliable. All of us at some point experienced the side effects caused by climate change; witnessing summers too hot or winters too cold: an instability in weathers and seasons. It is common knowledge that deforestation is a major contributor to climate change and is of critical concern worldwide. Another major contributor to climate change is farming, whose effects need to start being treated with concern. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO, estimates that 36% of the Earth’s land deemed fit for food production is already being used for farming. Furthermore, according to WWF, about 50% of our Planet’s liveable lands are occupied by agricultural practices, including pasture and cropland. And if critical changes are not made now, this already immense amount of farmed land shall continue to expand, leading to increased levels of deforestation and other detrimental modifications on our ecosystem.
Agriculture is the biggest industry worldwide, employing billions of people and creating an estimated yearly economic revenue of food worth over 1.3 trillion USD, according to WWF. Moreover, despite COVID-19 and its implications, the agriculture industry has remained stable and FAO further estimates an increase of 60% in food production to sustain a larger number of people by 2050.
Agriculture has drastically changed since the industrial revolution, allowing farmers to utilize new technologies, appliances, chemical products and governmental policies to enhance food production whilst minimising its prices. As M. Altieri highlights in his book, The Science of Sustainable Agriculture: second edition, an agroecosystem determinants and factors have a great influence and impact on how crops are cultivated. These determinants include the following:
- Physical – radiation, temperature, rainfall, water supply including moisture stress, soil conditions and land availability
- Biological – insects pests and natural enemies, plant diseases and soil biota
- Socioeconomic – population density, labour availability and economic (prices, markets, capital and credit availability)
In order to define sustainable agriculture, we must weight in aspects of environmental health, economic profitability and, social equity. The idea here would be to explore interlinkages on how agricultural practices can be used to implement a more sustainable and regenerative approach to farming and food sector delivery.
Over the years, the detrimental environmental and societal impact of agriculture have been realised. To name a few, adverse effects of agriculture include impoverished soils and water supplies, species extinction and halting in biodiversity, desertification and deforestation, labour exploration and diminished numbers of family owned farms. These are serious issues that must be addressed at the root of the problem and farmers are already trying to ameliorate these effects by limiting water usage, rotating crops plantation to promote soil health, utilizing herds to enhance natural grazing, and avoiding employing pesticides where possible1.
However, more needs to be accomplished to best address the negative impact agricultural practices has on the stability and sustainability of our planet. As Kate Raworth highlighted in her book, Doughnut Economics, there are still areas where people worldwide are falling short on social foundations: climate change, nitrogen and phosphorus loading, land conversion and biodiversity loss. It is integral to remember that countries all around the world are going to be constantly affected if we do not act now, with climate change hitting particularly close to home in the UK as the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) predicts that the wheat harvest will decline due to climate change and severe weather.
"Agriculture has a big role to play in coming up with an answer to these challenges."
Natalia Franca Rocha
Thus, it is pivotal that the industry, farmers and growers act now and adopt new practices and technologies that best emulate nature’s course of action and preserve limited resources such as water.
As the demand for environmentally friendly products is rising from the consumers, food chain stake holders and regulators, it brings on a great opportunity for the industry, governmental bodies and all those involved in agricultural practices to work together towards a better future. Innovation in agriculture is needed and it is a great time to adopt entrepreneurial ideas to minimise the gap between sustainable agricultural practices and environmental degradation. For instance, in Ghana, a group of ‘agripeneurs’ with different backgrounds are transforming the way in which farming is perceived. They work to demonstrate the appeal of this career path, particularly with the application of exciting and novel methods and ideas within the industry. Furthermore, concepts of combining technology with agriculture, for example, the development of vertical farming, implementation of Precision Ag, AgTech, biological solutions and products for plant nutrition and protection such as specialty fertilizers etc, can have direct impact implementing better regenerative sustainable agricultural practices. Hence, here at New AG International, we aim to bring together like-minded experts who all have a passion for developing the industry’s cutting-edge products for farmers. Our events have a key focus to facilitate meaningful connections between industry leaders, researchers, governmental bodies, distributors and all the key players active in agricultural practices!
Figure 2: Social Foundations dimension of human welfare and ecological ceiling. Red labels represent where people are falling behind on foundations in a global scale. Diagram taken from: https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/
To conclude, by looking at agriculture in a temporal relation, the industry can learn from its past and apply the best sustainable agricultural practices to the present in order to ensure food security and a better future for our planet. AlgaEnergy, for example, is an exemplary company leading the way on their commitment to ensure a more sustainable development to the future, contributing directly to 11 out of 17 sustainable development goals set by the United Nations.
1 Brodt, S., Six, J., Feenstra, G., Ingels, C. & Campbell, D. (2011) Sustainable Agriculture. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):1
Driving Sustainable Success with Organic Row Crops
Driving Sustainable Success with Organic Row Crops
Organic farming plays an important role within sustainable and regenerative agriculture. Discover how organic farming helps drive forward sustainability within agriculture and learn how to drive forward success with row crops .
Zero tillage. Continuous cover. Rotational grazing. Several farming practices are regenerative in nature. But when it comes to the economics of sustainable agriculture, organics remains one of the strongest.
Premiums for organic corn and soybeans have more than doubled their conventional counterparts’ prices over the last decade thanks to high consumer demand. When combined with the right production practices, the organic supply chain can be environmentally and economically sustainable. And to be sustainable with one you often need to be sustainable with the other.
Long-Term Outlook a Necessity
The key to achieving that sustainability is a long-term mindset from the input suppliers to the organic farmers to the end-users, says AgriSecure CEO and founder Steve Sinkula. And it’s only when the industry works together that everyone finds that sustainable success.
Sinkula explains that one of the main challenges that AgriSecure, a turn-key organic advisory service, sees organic farmers face is making decisions that will benefit them in the long-run without financially hurting them in the present.
For instance, one of the critical components of a successful organic operation is a diverse crop rotation. The right rotation helps prevent pests and manage weeds, which is crucial for a farming system that doesn’t use chemicals. It also promotes healthier soils since different crops take and provide various nutrients, thereby balancing soil biology.
Because of the vital role of crop rotation, Sinkula says organic farmers should have their rotations planned at least five years out in advance and ideally 10 years out. This sets up their fields and their pocketbooks for long-term success.
“If you’re too focused on immediate economic benefits, you can make decisions that are detrimental or not regenerative in nature in the long-term for your farm. Ultimately, that will catch up with you from an economic perspective as well.” Steve Sinkula
One of the key challenges farmers face in diversifying their organic crop rotation is market opportunities. It doesn’t matter how well a particular crop might fit into their rotation if there’s no buyers willing to pay a fair price for the grain. In those cases, there’s no economic upside.
That’s where end-users can come in to support organic farmers with demand for new crops.
“It seems to us there are these chicken and egg opportunities, where end-users may not be able to integrate certain ingredients in their products because there isn’t a supply that’s being organically produced,” Sinkula says. “And farmers aren’t growing it because there’s no demand.”
Therefore, end-users need to be thinking long-term about the products consumers will want and creating that demand for farmers to fill.
“Understanding how to coordinate in a fragmented landscape is really going to benefit both consumers who would want those products and the manufacturing companies that create them to meet consumer demand,” Sinkula adds. “And that can help growers to have a more robust crop rotation.”
When there is a lack of crop diversity, the consequences are often economically and environmentally detrimental. For example, a weed infestation from a poor crop rotation can take years to solve, require additional tillage, and will likely hurt future yields. But growers often end up trading off long-term benefits for their short-term needs, Sinkula says. And the needs for the farmer are often just surviving from year-to-year.
Critical Data and Transparency Missing
That long-term mindset also applies higher up in the supply chain.
There are many organic inputs available on the market, such as biologicals, biostimulants, and microbials. But farmers lack the depth of insight and data to make the right decisions on which ones to use. They’re also time-crunched and simply don’t have the resources to do their own research into the different products available. This often leads to “choice paralysis,” Sinkula says.
“The conventional world has a lot of information and research, pretty much on every aspect of agriculture,” says Bryce Irlbeck, a fifth-generation organic farmer and founder of AgriSecure. “That just doesn’t exist in organic. And it makes it very difficult to make decisions in the organic space, which decreases efficiency.”
To support organic farmers and the industry as a whole, manufacturers of organically approved inputs need to take the initiative of doing that research, particularly at the field-level, and making the data available to the farmers. They also need to make sure the data applies to organic row crop farmers. This is especially true when it comes to ROI, because the economics are very different from organic farmers growing high-value crops like fruits and vegetables.
The same applies to equipment manufacturers. There’s an opportunity to provide organic farmers with autonomous or robotic equipment that can help with the labor aspect, Sinkula says, but manufacturers need to understand the constraints organic farmers face and how they can meet their needs with new equipment innovations.
It’s taking the time to build up their knowledge on organic row crop farming and their research dataset. That way companies can deliver the value proposition that organic farmers need, Sinkula says, while in return capturing the reward of delivering that value to them.
Organic growers also need more clarity with the organic marketplace, which Irlbeck says is particularly lacking in transparency.
Mercaris is one company that is doing that at the macrolevel, which Irlbeck and Sinkula both feel has been valuable to the organic industry. But more transparency is needed.
“End-users say they want to support farmers, they say they want to do the right thing environmentally,” Sinkula says. “But the pressure on end-users to maintain or increase their business margins often causes them to seek out the lowest cost provider, and for the farmer it once again becomes an issue of tradeoffs.”
Pushing down crop prices only creates a race to the bottom, Irlbeck adds, which we’ve already seen play out in conventional farming.
“It has the potential to drive the environmental sustainability out of organics,” he explains. “That’s not the intention of organics. That’s not what people are paying premiums for. They’re paying a premium because they feel things are being done right.”
Partnerships at the Farm Level are Key
To support organic farmers — and ultimately the entire organic supply chain — companies and end-users need to find ways to work with them. The problem is the landscape is fragmented and geographically dispersed, which means there’s a high coordination cost.
That’s where developing the right partnerships is important. University ag extensions, non-profits, associations, and companies like AgriSecure can all play key roles in connecting the two ends of the value chain.
“In between those two ends of the value chain is a way to have a dataset, like we have in conventional, where farmers can use that information to really help decision-making,” Sinkula says. He adds that everything starts at the farm level. “There’s a lot of ways the other participants in the supply chain need to think and act long-term. And if they’re not doing that, it pushes the farms back to having a short-term mindset, and there’s where the year-to-year tradeoffs come into play.”
When the entire industry works together to support organic farmers and makes sure they’re able to make the best decisions for their operation, everyone can achieve the level of economic and environmental sustainability necessary to keep organics strong for the long-term.
Why does sustainable agriculture matter to farmers/ growers?
Sustainable agriculture allows us to improve the aromas of vegetables and fruits without abusing of nature.
Antonio, Grower, Naples, Italy
Sustainability for the agricultural world means to harmonize the management of the productions that are able to satisfy an increasing demand with the awareness of having less agricultural areas available, less water resources and an increasingly “prudent” use of pesticides and fertilizers. It means to use human resources by respecting simultaneously our own rights.
Giuliano, Technician, Tuscany, Italy
Today it means regaining the trust of the nature that was kidnapped just in a few decades and the confidence of consumers who ask for good but also safe food. The greatest investment must be made in culture and innovation, because the respect for our nature cannot be focused on a return to the origins, but a sincere strengthening of current production capacities through the powerful resources that our nature offers.
Giovanni, Technician, Sicily, Italy
Maintaining and promoting sustainability means continuing to supply food to the world and preserving my farm business in the medium and long term.
Tomato Grower, São Paulo State, Brazil
The final consumer is constantly looking for agricultural products grown with traditional and bioinnovative techniques, thus "forcing" farms to ensure maximum attention in the use of non-invasive products. After years of land depletion, farms have realized that by continuing with wicked choices of products, they have impoverished the soils and therefore today they are looking exponentially for biotechnological products that make a difference without damaging soils and human health. In short, the combination of consumers and farms lead to a request for a pure and guaranteed final product, bringing benefits to both categories.
Giulio, Grower, Emilia Romagna, Italy
Sustainability represents the synergy between society, economics, and environment. We are all responsible to foster sustainability otherwise we are all going to suffer the consequences.
Marcelo, Soybean Grower, Brazil
Sustainability is a green cycle that supports creating a positive atmosphere within the economy and a high quality of life. It represents that future generations should live in a better harmony world that the present generation has enjoyed but not wasted.
Luiz Fernando, Greenhouse Grower, Minas Gerais State, Brazil