The agriculture industry has changed drastically the last few decades with the integration of new technologies seeking to make farming practices more productive, sustainable and profitable. Sustainability is a major focus among agriculture experts and stakeholders in agriculture.
This push for more sustainable practices helps keep production on track with the rate the world population is growing, as well as mitigate challenges like climate change. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that production will need to increase by 70 percent by 2050 to continue to feed the growing population.
The purpose of a circular economy in agriculture requires using less inputs, closing nutrient loops, regenerating soils, and ultimately minimizing the impact on the environment. Waste reduction and resource optimization are two key components of a circular economy within agriculture.
Let’s explore how waste reduction and resource management can have an impact on sustainability.
Waste reduction in a circular economy is an integral part of the system where materials, products and services are used for as long as possible. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that 30-40 percent of the food supply is wasted, which puts more strain on land, water, energy and labor resources to dispose of this food.
The USDA also states very simply that the way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. This effort is not necessarily an easy one because it comes with shifts among many sectors of agriculture including improving product development, storage, shopping/ordering, marketing and labeling.
Waste reduction on the farm is also crucial to a successful circular economy. Practices such as nutrient recycling, organic waste management and by-product utilization reduces waste, and these resources circle throughout the farming system.
Resource optimization and waste reduction go hand in hand. Resources are optimized when waste is repurposed for other processes. For example, water issues have been a huge concern among farms worldwide, and technologies that optimize water use are making their way into small and large scale farms.
Water conservation techniques include using drip irrigation systems that precisely water crops according to their needs using sensors. These sensors only release water when the system detects that the crops are thirsty. Precision agriculture is another breakthrough in agricultural technology, which allows farmers to optimize resources through precise practices on farms.
Some of the benefits of precision agriculture include irrigation management, fertilization and pest control. Through these technologies, farmers can collect data and use this data to make informed decisions on their farms. This optimizes resources involved in irrigation, fertilization and pest control, thus reducing waste.
Incorporating sustainable practices in agriculture through a circular economy, waste reduction and resource optimization will continue to be important to growers, farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses around the world.
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture invested $70 million in sustainable agriculture research focusing research efforts on land stewardship, labor challenges and climate change impacts in agriculture.
Assisting farmers with the correct tools, education and best practices is key to seeing higher resource optimization and waste reduction. Looking toward a more resilient and sustainable future can be achieved focusing on a circular economy within agriculture practices.