As our community gets more environmentally cautious they are in search of sustainable farms that have a low damage to our resources such as low water, carbon and chemical footprint.
One of trickiest challenges facing society is how to produce enough food for growing populations without wrecking the environment and local communities. Every day, our planet wakes with nearly 200,000 more mouths to feed and more farmland lost to erosion. There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food. with monoculture and industrial farming our biodiversity is disappearing fast. Even with high resource utilization our farmers who produce the worlds food live in poverty.
By accepting technology and know-how the farmers are on the path of change. They are moving from soil to soil less methods, from conventional to organic or natural methods. Buyers face a number of myths and propaganda supporting methods that are rarely understood.
In current times buying locally and knowing your farmer helps a lot, especially if you can visit their farms for your purchase. Every method of farming has its pros and cons and by interacting with the farmer a better understanding of their environmental impact and sustainability can be understood.
Soil verses Soil-less
Farmer that are growing in soil have to deal with critters and infections associated with the soil. These farmers (organic or conventional) have to use pesticides and fungicides to prevent critters and infection from destroying their crops. They have to also use organic or inorganic herbicide to control weed competition on their farm. In practice soil based organic farmers use around 20 commonly used chemicals in growing and processing their crops. Organic farmers have to use pesticide more intensively than synthetic ones due to their low effectiveness.
The only difference is that the fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide origin is different. One is derived from natural resources and the other is processed. In a lot of studies the toxicity and potential – serious health risk are seen in both method of cultivation. For example Rotenone a widely used organic pesticide (extracted from roots and stem of plants) is used for a number of decade and is a known substance used by fisherman to harvest fish as it is toxic to fish. Research has found that this chemical causes Parkinson disease like symptoms in rat. Many bacteria, fungi and plants produce poisons, toxins and chemicals that you definitely wouldn’t want sprayed on your food.
A number of technology have moved from commercially soil farming to soil-less farming such as Hydroponic or Aquaponic. Hydroponic is an established method of cultivation using synthetic fertilizers. The benefit of this method is that there is no competition from weeds so there is no use of herbicides in this method. The drawback is that as synthetic chemicals are used in this process a salt load occurs and the solution is to dump the high concentrate waste into our environment or waterways. The other drawback is that every crop has its own fertilizer recipe so this technology leads to mono-crop on the site. This method is generally performed in greenhouse environment and uses low pesticide and fungicide dose.
The process of Aquaponic is developing and it uses fish fertilizer to grow the crops. Though the process uses fish manure to grow the plants yet it does not gain Organic Certification as USDA only provides to soil based farming. The other benefit is that as the fertilizer is not synthetically produced it is low in sodium content leading to no salt load in the system and hence the water is not discarded. As Aquaponics is a closed system where plants clean the fish manure and provide fresh water back to the fish, it is a closed system mimicking the nature and hence can also be called a natural method of cultivation. In Aquaponic there is no standard product specific fertilizer recipe so in one farm a number of crops can be grown simultaneously. The drawback to this method is that upon an infection harsh pesticide and fungicide cannot be used on the crop as they can kill the fish population.
Out of the known methods Aquaponic is one of the most environmentally sustainable method using the least amount of chemicals to grow the crops. The crop growth is three times faster than soil cultivation which could be a solution to the hunger problem on this planet.