Diversification on the Farm
Multispecies & Rotational Crops
Diversity on the farm is vital for a variety of reasons:
- Promotes resistance to pest, bacteria, and disease,
- Generates a way for farmers to manage and adapt to the effects of extreme weather events and climate change,
- Benefits soil health,
- Creates food and habitat for important pollinators, and
- Contributes to better health and nutrition. A healthy diet is one that relies on multiple food groups from a variety of foods. If our society continues to rely heavily on a narrow diversity of food crops – rice, wheat and corn – it will put the future of food and nutrition at risk.
Pasture rotation is a great way to maximize use of available land while improving the overall conditions of the pastures. The idea is to influence livestock to consume forage in a limited area, and then move them on before that area is overgrazed or damaged. Properly rotated through the fields, a mix of livestock and poultry will not only encourage increased forage growth, but they will work with each other to control pests, disease and parasites.
- If properly implemented, rotational grazing can maximize forage utilization, herd and pasture health, and parasite management.
- Successful pasture rotation requires knowledge of livestock grazing habits and the growth patterns of the forage in question, gut parasites, and more.
- A multi-species grazing scheme may offer ways to moderate the problem of parasites. For instance, fowl and swine are not susceptible to the same parasites as cattle, sheep, and goats.
- Cattle are grazers, and prefer longer grass. They will tend to not eat grasses too low to the ground if possible.
- Sheep, are also grazers but they prefer shorter grass, and tend to clip the grass low to the ground.
- Piggies eat anything, and with their snouts will turn over the soil in search of roots and grubs. They also have the helpful habit of eating the roots of invasive species which eliminates the need for herbicides.
- Chickens scratch apart manure piles in search of grubs and maggots. This behavior not only spreads fertilizer on the fields, but also contributes to the desiccation and death of parasites, as well as providing a natural control of insect pests such as flies, ticks and fleas.
- Cross breeding – increases the genetic diversity of the species which ultimately makes it more resilient.
Multicrops vs. Monocrops:
Monocropping generally refers to only one crop, or one type of plant species, being grown at a time on a large parcel of land. The lack of genetic diversity in this system of farming tends to create a heavy reliance on the use of commercial fertilizers, intensive applications of pesticides to manage pests, and additional inputs that are environmentally harmful to the land, the food, and the farmers that grow these crops.
RTB uses an agricultural method known as Multicropping in which a wide variety of plant species are grown on one piece of land. It utilizes practices such as Crop Rotation, changing what is planted in one area from season to season, and Intercropping – planting two or more crops in close proximity to encourage plant diversity, reduce weeds, and diminish pest pressure. This is usually accomplished by using companion plants and cover crops. The use of cover crops provides shade and increases water retention in the soil.
Utilizing Crop Rotation ensures that the soil has time to regenerate and maintain health over time by providing the soil with a ‘rest’ period which allows it to replenish its micronutrients, microbes, and other vital components. We are also able to introduce plants that fix nitrogen, the process of pulling nitrogen from the air and releasing it into the soil, to improve soil health.
By implementing a Multicrop systems approach at RTB, we are constantly increasing the biodiversity on the farm by allowing species to naturally interact in beneficial ways. Planting a diversity of crops attracts and sustains a large variety of pollinators. Sustainable agriculture depends significantly on these pollinators; especially the honeybees which account for 80% of all insect pollination.
Sustainable crop production also has many socioeconomic benefits that combat the effects of many industrial, monocrop operations. Diversification of farms helps reduce economic and environmental vulnerabilities by supporting local farm communities and food systems, providing protection and maintenance of open farmland, improved soil health which directly impacts the nutritional quality of our food and overall health costs associated with poor nutrition, and better working conditions for farmers in the form of increased wages and limited, to no, exposure to harmful pesticides and chemical fertilizers.