Knowledge on the most important practices for sustainable agriculture may provide valuable support for all farmers who intend to work in compliance with the environmental, social and economic goals, which represent the three pillars of sustainable agriculture.
- Secure the financial stability of the farm – sustainability can only be achieved by farms which are solid and have the capacity to develop. To meet this requirement, the farm must be financially stable and managed in accordance with a well-thought-out business plan.
- Optimally select crops and ensure proper sowing – the diversity of climate and soil conditions requires a well-though-out selection of the species and varieties to be cultivated, detailed knowledge about the cultivation and protection requirements, in order to optimise the production effects.
- Rotate crops to enhance soil biodiversity – the task of each farmer is to plan crops in such a manner as to make sure that different crop species are grown on the field in subsequent years, with a view to enriching the soil, enhancing its fertility and biodiversity potential. It has a positive effect on production profitability and facilitates farm development.
- Build soil fertility by increasing the humus content– sustainability in field production is based on the soil’s own fertility, which is merely supported by fertilisers. Soil richness can be developed by increasing the content of humus which also contributes to water storage. As a result, the farm produces more and at a lower cost, while being less sensitive to unfavourable weather conditions.
- Fertilize plants based on the optimized fertilizer balance – crop fertilisation should merely supplement the nutrients present in the soil according to the needs of the crops. The nutrients supplied in fertilisers must overcompensate for the nutrients used up by the yields of the crops, while bearing in mind the losses arising out of natural processes occurring in the soil. Fertilisation balance is based on required knowledge about the actual soil richness, crop requirements and fertilisers used.
- Comply with the principles of integrated pest management – the best protection effects at the lowest costs are produced by integrating various methods of protection, i.e. mechanical, physical, agronomic, biological and chemical, intended for application if others prove ineffective. Making use of knowledge about harmful organisms and crops, it is possible to undertake various measures at the right times to control such organisms or mitigate their harmfulness. Help in this respect might also be provided by the increasing number of digital solutions available to farmers, which strongly support integrated crop protection. Implementing these rules helps optimise the use of crop protection products and the financial effect of crop protection.
- Effective use of water resources – all activities should be driven by the optimum utilisation of available resources of water, both in the soil and from irrigation. Rational use of water will help ensure stability and sustainability of agricultural production, especially in the context of climate change. Farmers should manage water resources reasonably by increasing the water retention of soils as much as possible and regularly monitoring water needs and consumption.
- Keep the soil under the plant cover for as long as possible – soil erosion is a very harmful phenomenon caused by the effects of water, wind, but also by human activities. Cultivation of crops with an extensive root system, which provide good covering for the soil – similarly to leaving the soil covered with post-harvest crop residues – prevents soil erosion. No-plough cultivation, similarly to anti-erosive crop rotations, may successfully reduce soil erosion.
- Support biodiversity on the farm and its surroundings – biodiversity contributes to lower expenditures and increased production effects. It is partially limited on the fields in order to obtain yield and, therefore, it is necessary to additionally support biodiversity outside the fields.
- Ensure animal welfare – the production and financial effects of a farm with animals depend on their health and maintenance conditions. Only healthy and properly maintained animals can generate high production good-quality meat, milk etc.
- Apply the no-tillage system – no-tillage cultivation is an alternative to traditional farming, excluding excessive dislocation and oxygenation of soil. The procedures are usually limited to soil scarification and superficial mixing, without turning it over (tilling). The remaining work is done by earthworms and other soil organisms that build corridors in soil thus enhancing its fertility, supporting its aeration, and processing post-harvest residues.
- Aim to reduce greenhouse gases emissions – agriculture emits a series of greenhouse gases (e.g. CO2, CH4, NH3, and NOX), which should be minimised by properly using machines and equipment, good management of fuels, organic fertilisers and post-harvest residues, optimisation of livestock farming conditions and sowing of ground cover plants, e.g. as intercrops, allowing for better CO2 absorption.
- Properly manage waste – postproduction farm waste should be optimally utilised for further production, apart from the municipal waste and refuse dangerous to humans and the environment, the disposal of which is stipulated by law.
- Comply with the law – is a prerequisite of each sustainable agricultural production, which must take place in respect of applicable law and within its limits.
- Take care of employees, their rights and safety on the farm – consistent respect of workers’ rights and care for staff working conditions guarantee good quality of the work performed, proper use of equipment and low accident rates – all these elements contribute to higher production profitability and financial results of the farm. Knowledge of threats and proper assessment of the risk that may emerge during work on a farm leads to better work safety. Changes in technology and technical equipment require knowledge about new threats. Health and Safety training courses are a necessary part of agricultural work, not less important than periodic technical inspections of farming equipment.
- Undertake activities for the societal acceptance of agriculture – sustainable agriculture is also a response to social expectations to make agricultural production more environmentally friendly.
Partner communication with the local community in which the farmer lives, and with the broader society, is becoming increasingly urgent. It is very important, both in conversations with people who are not linked with agriculture and, for instance, in social media, to show farmers’ work and, above all, specific activities for the protection of the environment and animal welfare.