A discussion of how agriculture is affordable reveals how this industry can operate at capacity while reducing its environmental impact. The affordability of farming involves an assessment of its economic, environmental, and other impacts in addition to its profit margin.
The Impacts of Agriculture
The practice of raising livestock or producing crops on a small area of land sets the stage for negative impacts. Several issues require scrutiny to make sure the costs of farming do not outweigh the benefits.
Things to be considered include fertilizer and pesticide use, animal waste, agricultural runoff, and costs of production. Agriculture must strive to find a balance between doing business and its effects.
Ways to Increase Affordability
One way of ensuring how agriculture is affordable is through integrated pest management (IPM). Pests are part of the agricultural landscape, making chemical use unavoidable. However, the IPM approach can offer ways to reduce pesticide use to make agriculture more affordable while increasing profit.
Prevention is one part of IPM. Simple practices such as rotating crops can reduce pest control costs while improving soil quality. For example, pests specific to corn crops can be eliminated by replacing the host plants like corn with non-host plants such as soybeans.
A farmer can plant corn one year, and then follow up with soybeans. Without corn planted, the pests specific to these plants will die off. The nitrogen-fixing properties of soybeans will enrich the soil with nitrogen so that the farmer does not have to fertilize. The farmer benefits by saving costs, and the environment benefits because chemical use was avoided.
Other ways include proper use of pesticides when needed. Using a pesticide specific to the pest species can prevent economic loss of non-targeted plants. Correct timing of pesticide application can increase their effectiveness and reduce costs associated with spraying during less effective times of the year. A farmer can also choose pest-resistant varieties to reduce costs.
Tapping into local markets can help farmers reduce costs associated with transportation. Consumers are better educated about the benefits of local produce and see their value. According to a 2009 Harris Interactive survey, nearly 40 percent of respondents purchased locally grown produce in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. This action benefits consumers while increasing the affordability of agriculture for local farmers.
Innovative Ways to Increase Profit
Alternative energy also offers ways for farmers to reduce their costs and benefit the environment. Leasing land for wind turbines provides farmers with an extra source of income. Federal and state tax incentive programs can further improve agriculture's affordability.
Other forms of alternative energy such as biomass and methane plants benefit farmers by providing income and ways of waste disposal. The Cow Power program, part of Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS), for example, uses manure to produce heat energy. Farmers in the program receive income from energy generation and reduce costs of bedding for livestock, according to Energy Boom.
Planning and assessment of current farming operations can determine agriculture's affordability. In a nutshell, the farmer's task is to prevent economic loss while finding ways to increase their income. In this endeavor, technology offers the way.