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What makes wheat farming sustainable? Conventional farming practices — the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, the excessive use of water and fossil fuels, and repeated planting of single crops — work in the short-term. Food is produced, as cheaply and successfully as possible, allowing the farmers to survive, and the crop to remain affordable for everyone. In the long-term however, conventional practices are not sustainable. Soil becomes laden with chemical toxins, and lacking in nutrients. Viable land becomes scarce, and the use of water and energy becomes a growing financial cost as well as an environmental one.
In order to have long-term success feeding an ever-growing population, farmers will have to change some of their methods. Crop rotation, along with natural fertlization, allows farmers to continually harvest bountiful crops from thriving soil. It does not introduce chemicals into the environment, and minimizes the use of non-renewable resources. It also provides the consumer with nutrient-rich food, instead of low-quality crops. As a food staple, the ability of the farming industry to provide eco-friendly wheat in the future will have a huge impact on the well-being of the entire world population.
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What do wheat farmers have to do in order to practice sustainable agriculture?
- They have to abstain from using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, which would otherwise pollute the soil and local water systems.
- Sustainable wheat farmers rotate crops. Diversifying creates sustainable, usable soil season after season.
- They have to conserve water through more intense monitoring and irrigation techniques.
- Farmers have to conserve energy by using local agricultural products whenever process, and minimizing the use of heavy machinery.
- They have to reuse materials as much as possible, such as leftover organic materials to be made into a natural fertilizer.
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It seems simple — transition to eco-friendly farming, and produce a better product, feel secure in a sustainable industry, and be ready for a growing demand for wheat. Farmers however, face many obstacles. They deal with area-specific environmental conditions; factors which are out of their control. For example, in an area of low, or inconsistent rainfall, it may be difficult to rotate crops.
There is a severe lack of information and resources for eco-friendly wheat. From information on the most practical ways to use water, to local, energy-efficient farming machinery and organic fertilizers, the necessities are not always available. Many farms are located in rural areas, where access to green products and research is limited. Finding the time and access to industry and environmental groups which can impart knowledge and listen to ideas is not easy. Having to pay for the extra transportation can cause the price of production to exceed the value of the crop.
The largest challenge, at least at this point, is economics. Wheat farmers usually do not make enough from their crops to invest in more efficient equipment, to lose money on alternative crops, nor to transition from practices that they have successfully used for years. Switching to organic gardening is easy for the individual who is not financially dependent on the produce, but for professional farmers, the work involved in using organic, eco-friendly fertilizers and methods of pest and weed-control is not practical.
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The Future Affects Everyone
It is predicted that the world population will increase to nine billion by 2050. This poses a huge problem for the food industry. How will wheat farmers be able to provide enough food without clearing environmentally valuable forests and less essential crops? Through sustainable agriculture. How can farmers realistically practice sustainable farming alone? They probably can't. A unified effort on the part of the farmers, the industry, the government, environmentalists, and the public is necessary to cultivate an earth-friendly, sustainable future.
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Thompson, Don. "Study: California farmers can profit by saving water." (Associated Press, September 7, 2008) http://www.nctimes.com/news/state-and-regional/article_f912ce51-3864-5269-94de-ecbb02156cc4.html
Scronce, Karl. "Word on Wheat: Achieving Sustainability in Agriculture." (National Association of Wheat Growers) http://www.wheatworld.org/2009/05/word-on-wheat-achieving-sustainability-in-agriculture/
DuPont, S. Tianna. "A Case Study on the Use of Best Management Practices for Wheat in the Walla Walla Valley." http://www.whitman.edu/environmental_studies/WWRB/agriculture/dupont.html
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photo by Kevin Lallier (CC/flickr) http://www.flickr.com/photos/klallier/3715569167/