Blog written by Young Ambassador Katie O'Grady

The main aim of sustainable farming is to protect the environment, whist also seeking a reliable, profitable farm income. This practice will ensure the future of farming around the world, helping to maintain and improve soil fertility. It is suggested that we may only have 40-60 more harvests in the UK, if we continue to use our current farming techniques. [1] Therefore it is essential to improve the UK’s farming, working in harmony with nature.

Our current agricultural problems:

  1. Intensive farming:
    • The aim of intensive farming is to produce as much product (meat, dairy, eggs...) at the lowest cost.
    • It is linked to deforestation throughout the world, due to the need for high volumes of cheap animal feed.
    • Intensively produced meat can contain less vitamins and more unhealthy fats than those animals who are pasture fed, having health implications.
    • Intensive farms heavily rely on antibiotics and fertilisers. 30% of all antibiotics consumed in the UK are used on farm animals,[2] this is leading to antibiotic resistance, which is one of the biggest problems we are going to face in the 21st Century. With fewer antibiotics being effective, new antibiotics will need to be created, requiring lots of time and money.
  2. Pesticides and fertilisers:
    • Pesticides are used to kill any unwanted bugs from crops. However, although useful to increase crop yield, this may harm other key wildlife such as bees, a keystone species.
    • Humans rely on plant-pollinator interactions, such as those performed by bees, for one third of the food which we eat. [3] Without these key organisms much of our food today would disappear.
    • Fertilisers are used to add vital nutrients to the soil, which may be previously missing, enabling crops to grow faster. Too much synthetic fertiliser can lead to the pollution of local water sources, killing both fish and plants.

Suggested Solutions:

  1. Agroforestry:
    • 72% of land in the UK is currently used by farmers, [4] if we were able to combine this with forestry, the UK could have beneficial impacts towards the mitigation of climate change.
    • Trees can be grown within fields, not just on the edges. This could both provide shelter for livestock and act as a windbreak, improving crop productions by helping to reduce water loss.
  2. The organic system:
    • This aims to produce high-quality food using methods that will benefit the agricultural system in the future.
    • Fewer pesticides are used, aiming to enhance the natural balance between plants and animals.
    • The organic system uses no artificial fertilisers, has higher animal welfare standards and no routine use of antibiotics.

UK countryside stewardship schemes are currently available to reward farmers who sustainably manage their land and livestock helping to protect the local biodiversity.

Agroforestry

Agroforestry in the UK.[5]

Therefore, although our current system does not seem sustainable, many farmers are already employing these suggested solutions, helping to reduce our agricultural footprint whilst also being rewarded for their environmental practices.

References

[1] “Why”. Beaver Trust. https://beavertrust.org/index.php/beavers-build-climate-change-and-extinction-resilience/. Accessed 24 Feb. 2022.

[2] “Food production and sustainable farming”. Friends of the Earth. https://friendsoftheearth.uk/sustainable-living/food-production-and-sustainable-farming. Accessed 24 Feb. 2022.

[3] C. Landry. “Mighty Mutualisms: The Nature of Plant-pollinator Interactions”. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):37, 2010. https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/mighty-mutualisms-the-nature-of-plant-pollinator-13235427/. Accessed 24 Feb. 2022.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Agroforestry On Your Farm”. Soil association. https://www.soilassociation.org/farmers-growers/technicalinformation/agroforestry-on-your-farm/. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

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