Integrated farming system
Checking the weather
By 2019, up to 40,000 hectares of land in Belgium will be producing organic vegetables, eggs, meat, and dairy products.
But one of the biggest challenges for farmers in this sector is dealing with weather. Though some experts say it is getting better due to climate change, many Belgian farmers now see a need for a hybrid model that combines traditional farming with newer, more precise technology.
“In the past we didn’t get weather reports or take them into account when we planted. But now we do,” says Michel Hirsch, an expert from the Agriculture and Rural Development College at the University of Ghent. “It’s our job now to develop a new integrated farming system.”
The models include farming systems using integrated farming systems and soil fertilization methods, modern irrigation systems covering more than half of the land area in Belgium, integrated crop and livestock farming, and ecological farming practiced in more than 70 European countries.
To manage the risks associated with weather conditions, farmers are re-enacting the European integrated farm system and developing solutions based on three integrated agricultural themes: farm policy, climate change mitigation, and farm use.
The farmer’s role
Farmers are under pressure to make their practices as sustainable as possible while addressing their responsibilities as farmers.
Integrating farming systems with other measures, such as climate change mitigation, is part of this. But farmers are not solely responsible.
“We are integrating and building our farms. But the system has to be sustainable,” says Hirsch. “When farmers are in doubt, when they are not sure whether they should build another pumping system, we can ask our colleagues who are doing this. They are integrated systems.”
The farmer’s role goes beyond the farm. They are also part of a larger agricultural system that includes farming policy.
“So much land is owned by very small, individual families or companies that are not interested in farming,” says Johan van Urma, chair of the Agricultural Reform Platform at the Federation of Agricultural Workers and Associations (SVA).
But since farmers rely on land-rental prices for income, changes in land rights can mean changes in the farmer’s pocket.
“Politicians are discussing ways to reduce their own job responsibilities,” van Urma says. “They are reducing the ability of a farmer to do their job and to do their job in an integrated system.”
This may mean less land, fewer farmers, and less value for land that remains for farmers.
Read more: Climate change: how to farm production and farming practices are changing.
Building sustainable farm systems for farmers and consumers is a way to avoid that future.
“When land is left idle and farmers don’t earn any income, it’s left to die and rot,” says van Urma.
How does it work?
Land-rental prices are used to pay farmers and develop new integrated farming systems.
For farmers, it’s a system they see as viable. But consumers may see it differently. Land-rental prices increase the price of food and can sometimes push it higher. So, if farmers don’t earn any income, they lose the incentive to farm in an integrated system and build their farms using new farming technology.
“If we don’t have other income to cover some of the costs, farmers cannot work in a good integrated system,” says Hirsch. “They don’t have the finance to pay for crop residues and fertilisers and to implement these systems, and we lose the benefits. But we can adapt the system and create a new system based on more modern farming techniques and crop systems.”
The integrated farming systems can be far more profitable than traditional farming. This is because the system can work with all kinds of crops, both conventional and new forms of sustainable agriculture.
It is an opportunity to implement new technologies, such as integrated crop systems and integrated livestock farming for farmers.
For consumers, it is an opportunity to support farmers and help them build sustainable agricultural systems.
“If farmers don’t do this, we lose the benefits we get from integrated farming systems,” says Johan Söderling, director of the Food and Farming Conference of the Confederation of Belgian Farmers Associations. “If we don’t adapt to the new situation, farmers will not have the land and the system we need to do our job properly.”
The land system
Building an integrated system helps farmers to implement new farming technology and develop crop and livestock systems.
The system includes integrated crop farming and integrated livestock farming.
“We are farming, but it’s not integrated farming,” says Van Urma. “We are farming in an integrated system in the same field, but it’s not integrated agriculture.”
This is because each farm is in its own system. They use their own fertilizers and waste in their fields, and they use different farming technologies.
Integrated agriculture builds a system that is designed for farming in all kinds of climates and land conditions. It is a farming system designed for growing crop systems and livestock systems, based on the development of new farming technology.
So, farmers can adapt to different environments to produce different crops and livestock systems and build farming systems using different farming technologies.
To give farmers the most flexibility, farmers often choose to build integrated systems based on new farming technologies. For example, farmers in the Netherlands plan to build integrated systems based on artificial systems for sustainable farming.
Making this happen
“We can build this system of farming in an integrated system, but we still need to make the system a sustainable one,” says Van Urma.
A sustainable farming system can build a
“When you have some changes to your farming system, it’s best to do it when you’re not fighting with the world. When you can influence a little bit of climate change and feed the world,” says Hirsch. “But farmers need to change their practices gradually, so the new systems are working.
“It takes time for farmers to adapt and to develop the new systems. And that’s why we’re talking about growing together. It takes time to develop the system.”
Read more: How farmers can better prepare for climate change
A better agricultural system is much better for farmers, consumers, and the planet. If you’re not already involved in agriculture, you’re better off joining farmers working towards more sustainable farms and food systems.
And a better agricultural system is a better system for the environment and the world.
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How land-rental pricing policies affect the profitability of farming
Impact of agricultural policies on farming: An integrated system analysis of both farming policies
Going organic on your farm: Sustainable farming can reduce the number of fertilizers and pesticides you use
What happens to farmland in a changing climate?
To grow food sustainably in
“Agriculture is about farming systems,” says Hirsch. “There are lots of ways to build a sustainable farming system. Farmers can have a system based on integrated farming, farming on the same field all year, or integrated farming that uses crop rotation. They can have small-scale farming and farming with large scale farming systems.”
The farmer’s role goes beyond the farm. The system is also about changes in agriculture.
“Industrial farming is gone. It is not sustainable,” says van Urma. “From the early days of agriculture, we focused on mechanizing farming. c did that because of increasing production and improving yields. But