For some time now, the bulk of the world’s food has been produced through means of industrial agriculture – this has involved large farms growing the same crops each year while using various chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) that can have a negative impact on soil, water, and the air. Considering the fact that these practices are known to squander valuable resources, it is no surprise that farmers are looking for new ways to produce food, including by means of sustainable agriculture.
What is Sustainable Agriculture?
According to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), “Sustainable agricultural practices are intended to protect the environment, expand the Earth’s natural resource base, and maintain and improve soil fertility.” This concept centers on a multi-pronged approach, working to:
- Ensure farms can be as profitable as possible.
- Promote environmental stewardship.
- Help the surrounding community, including other farms.
- Maximize production for food and other necessary resources (i.e., fibers for clothes).
Benefits of Sustainable Farming
There are several benefits that can be realized through the implementation of sustainable agriculture. By making the move toward sustainable agriculture, farmers can:
- Help replenish not only the land but also other natural resources, such as water and air.
- Reduce chemical use, save scarce resources, and shrink their reliance on nonrenewable energy.
- Minimize costs and focus more on profits through the use of technology that limits surprises.
- Improve food production without being wasteful.
The points listed above are just a few of the benefits that can be realized through this agricultural practice. And while it may not be an option for some based on any number of factors, sustainable agriculture is truly a great way to help farmers get the most out of their land.
Sustainable Agriculture Practices & Methods
As sustainable agriculture grows as a priority around the world, many are trying to understand what it entails. Because despite what most may believe to be true, sustainable agriculture doesn’t necessarily mean organic only. Other methods and practices for this type of farming include the following.
Crop Rotation and Diversity
By planting a variety of crops, farmers can ensure healthier soil and better pest control. To achieve these benefits, intercropping (growing different crops in one area) and intricate multi-year crop rotations should be put into practice.
Cover crops play an important role in protecting healthy soil that might otherwise be left bare during off-season times. They prevent erosion, replenish soil nutrients, and keep weeds in check, thereby reducing the need for chemical intervention (i.e., herbicides).
Integration of Crop and Animal Production
In most agriculture spaces, farmers tend to keep their crops and animals separate from one another. However, by bringing these two pieces together, farmers can build more efficient, profitable operations that leverage their own resources (i.e., manure fertilizers) to thrive.
Integrated Pest Management
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines Integrated Pest Management as “an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices.” In other words, this is not a one-sided pest control method but, rather, a series of pest management evaluations, decisions, and controls. Steps include setting an action threshold to determine if intervention is necessary; monitoring for and identifying pests to ensure that beneficial organisms would not be impacted; managing the crop, lawn, or indoor space in question to prevent pests from becoming a threat; determining the proper control method both for effectiveness and risk.
Agroforestry is the “intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems to create environmental, economic, and social benefits,” as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And this concept is nothing new – it has been practiced both in the United States and around the world for centuries, demonstrating its true value in the world of agriculture.
How John Deere Prioritizes Sustainability in Agriculture
For generations, the goal for most farmers has been to care for their land in ways that preserve it. By making the most out of every resource, from the smallest seed to the largest piece of equipment, these individuals can ensure their businesses thrive in terms of productivity and profitability. This has also included protecting the environmental resources needed to sustain their crops, such as the air and their soil.
Recognizing this dedication to the land, John Deere has developed technology and solutions over the years designed to help farmers take the guesswork out of their everyday tasks. With the ability to leverage data, farmers can achieve a level of precision that ensures less disturbance of the land. Through the following five steps, John Deere helps farmers attain sustainable outcomes.
Farmers know that there is no such thing as an off-season. To maximize uptime, John Deere offers connectivity technology and digital tools to enable farmers to monitor operations, make tactical decisions, and strategize for the season ahead. These outcomes are achieved through the collection and analysis of data that can be used to inform best practices.
Once strategies have been laid out, it is time to prepare the field for the next growing season. During this period of preparation, farmers must be aware of any factors that could stand in the way of a perfect season – this primarily includes weeds that can steal water and nutrients and soil conditions. John Deere solutions designed to address these potential pain points include:
- AutoTrac™: When incorporated within farm operations, this John Deere technology offering can optimize each pass through the field by reducing overlap, thereby ensuring that each inch of the ground is not interrupted more than is absolutely necessary. This also helps to save fuel, cut back on herbicide and fertilizer usage, minimize one’s carbon footprint, and reduce soil compaction – all of which are critical components of sustainable agriculture.
- Section Control: This offering utilizes GPS technology to enable even application of herbicides, reduce the chances of double application, specifically when the machine is making tight turns, and turn sections of a John Deere sprayer on or off. With the ability to easily control herbicide application in the first go, operators can avoid wastage and reduce their carbon footprint.
- TruSet™ Tillage Technology: Designed to allow operators to make on-the-go adjustments from the comfort of their cab, TruSet Tillage Technology is another great option for operators looking to farm more sustainably. Because individuals can make automated, precise adjustments based on the specific needs of their fields, they are able to create a more consistent and healthy seedbed for their crops. In turn, this helps increase yields, save fuel, and reduce one’s carbon footprint.
The next phase in the production lifecycle is one that requires the utmost precision: Planting. In this stage, farmers must optimize their placement of seeds and nutrients and minimize the number of times they pass through the field, all within a narrow window of time. With this in mind, John Deere developed its ExactEmerge™ planter technology to deliver accurate and consistent seed placement at nearly double the speed of other planters. Despite this level of quickness, though, there are no compromises when it comes to the precision of placement.
These benefits are further enhanced with the addition of AutoTrac and Section Control, both of which ensure the least amount of disturbance of the soil to enable increased yields, time savings, reduced fuel consumption, and seed savings.
Once seeds start to grow and mature, farmers must monitor and care for their work to ensure maximum crop yields. In this phase, farmers must try to minimize their passes through fields as much as possible to limit disruption to the soil, only applying nutrients where and when it is necessary to do so. This can be achieved with the help of ExactApply™ spraying technology, which allows for individual nozzles on a John Deere sprayer to be turned on and off to do away with overapplication or under-application; it also helps farmers avoid waterways or non-productive ground.
When combined with AutoTrac and Section Control, this spraying technology ensures farmers can protect their crops and drive optimal outputs without the need to apply too many nutrients to the crops and soil. In the name of sustainable agriculture, this technology helps reduce herbicide usage, avoid application in waterways, and reduce one’s carbon footprint.
In this final stage of the crop production cycle, farmers must efficiently harvest all that they had sown the previous season in a short period of time. But as any farmer knows, harvest does not come without its challenges, from potential crop loss to less than ideal weather conditions to foreign materials getting mixed in with the grain. Because of these factors, farmers cannot leave anything up to chance.
Combine Advisor™, which is available on John Deere combines, is a groundbreaking technology that incorporates vision technology and machine learning to address these potential issues. With the ability to make automatic adjustments based on various crop conditions, such as moisture levels and the presence of foreign materials, farmers can mitigate crop losses. This technology can also be combined with AutoTrac to keep the combine operating on the row at all times without any divergence. Overall, Combine Advisor helps increase yields, reduce operator fatigue, save time and fuel, and reduce one’s carbon footprint.
Getting the Most Out of the Land Through Sustainable Agriculture Practices
In addition to helping farmers enjoy the benefits of sustainable farming, John Deere has also worked towards more sustainable outcomes. As highlighted in its 2020 Sustainability Report, John Deere has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 19% since 2017, recycled 78% of its waste, and sourced 32% of its global electricity usage from renewables. By putting these initiatives into practice, John Deere has demonstrated a commitment to sustainability, both in the world of agriculture and the world in general.
If you have any questions about John Deere agriculture equipment, you can contact your local John Deere dealer.