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Agriculture has expanded heavily in science and improved practices exponentially throughout the course of the last century. This has virtually revolutionized the yields produced by row crop farming. These improvements have brought along sciences such as no-till planting, and the use of herbicides and pesticides. This increase in chemical usage has eased the farmer’s workload, and allowed for higher yields, but also imposed possible heath risks and longstanding repercussions. A practice that many farmers have adapted to combat the damage of these chemicals is organic farming of row crops.
Large outbreaks, such as the dead zone in the estuary in southern Louisiana where the Mississippi River runs into the Gulf of Mexico, show that the present day agricultural practices cannot be continued without doing major damage to the environment. This damage can cause harm to the land and water that are needed to produce bountiful crops.
Organic row crops farms use the practices of farming before the treatment of herbicides and pesticides modernized the industry. This method is an alternative to conventional farming, where the farmers use less tillage, and more pesticides, herbicides and large amounts of chemical fertilizers. Organic farming however uses no chemicals for fertilizer or pest control thus can completely eliminate chemical runoff. Beyond being better for the environment the crops produced by organic row crop farms are held to a higher standard by society and are more valuable.
“Organic grain crops bring in about $200 more per acre than their conventional counterparts, according to a study from Iowa State University, after taking into account labor, land and production costs” (Organic Makes Economic Sense for Grain Farmers).
This increase in profit can balance out the typical effects of loss of yield when converting from conventional row crops to organic, and therefore make a very suitable replacement to conventional farming. However, with proper management, organic crops can yield very similar to conventional row crops.
Proper management for organic crops is much more diversified than conventional farm management. Without the use of chemical fertilizers, soil fertility it is challenging to control and it can pose a challenge to organic row crops farms. One such way that organic farmers confront this is through long-term practices that can sustain soil nutrients. An example would be use of green manure, using a grass crop planted in the fall, after the grain crop is harvested, to conserve nutrients and then be tilled under in the spring (Between the Rows: Organic Corn Production – Corn). This practice helps with weed suppression and soil moisture management because leaving the soil bare after harvest and during winter causes loss in nutrients. There are also other ways to achieve proper soil management without planting an extra crop over the winter.
An alternative practice to conserve the proper growing conditions for organic row crops is crop rotations. Crop rotations, as defined by the University of Minnesota, are predetermined sequence of cropping systems for a set field. A rotation of plants, such as soybeans or alfalfa, which place nitrogen in the soil through nitrogen-fixating bacteria whereas corn or sorghum deplete the nitrogen in the soil, thus to help conserve the natural amount of nitrogen in the soil, crop rotations are a beneficial practice field (Rotation: Organic Risk Management: Agronomy and Plant Genetics). This can be seen in Figure 1, the farmer choose to section off the field into strips and plant different crops in each strip, then next year the crop on each section will change to better manage nutrient loss. This practice also has positive benefits towards soil structure and weed suppression and shows that the crops produced in the rotation put back as much nutrients that are taken out.
Overall, we cannot continue the current rates of pollution and nutrient runoff produced by conventional farming; it is inefficient and harmful to the environment. Organic farming in row crops is one positive improvement that can prevent this destruction. By using natural processes, such as the ones used by organic farming that use less chemicals, both the economy and the agricultural industry can be stabilized and can thrive for many generations of future farmers to come.
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