A holistic long-term approach may be the key to introducing sustainability into the food and agriculture equation, according to a report from Rabobank.
Fundamentally, this would entail a shift in farmers’ focus away from yield maximization and toward “input optimization,” according to New Best Farming Practices that Intensify Agriculture Sustainably.
Rabobank has identified the over-application of fertilizers and inefficient water usage as critical to changing farmers’ perception of best practice. Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of global water demand and technologies to optimize irrigation systems will be key to future water conservation.
Farmers need an integrated approach to optimize farm inputs to enable them to apply at the right time, place and rate, subsequently reducing the environmental impact and initial cost, the report says. Technological innovations in both areas are being developed as higher farm input prices incentivize farm input companies to spend more on research and development.
However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution and technological innovations tailored toward the specific issues within a farming category are pivotal to improving best practices, the report says.
Rabobank identifies four different farming groups — agro-enterprises, family farms, smallholders and agricultural adventurers — that each require a unique approach to improving best practices. Such methods include:
- Soil conditioning for those farms that operate with less crop rotation.
- High-tech innovations including accurate soil-water sensors and GPS technology for variable planting density.
- Research, education and farming recommendations through less intensive ICT-services.
- Land transformation and infrastructure through collaborations of funders, agronomic consultants and contract farmers.
In 2009, a Rabobank report said sustainable practices were in place in at 70 percent of US farms.