Principle 1: Safeguard natural resources
Land management should be improved through the widespread adoption of sustainable land use practices
• Conservation agriculture to prevent soil erosion and land degradation
• Manage watersheds and water use more efficiently
• Protect wildlife habitat and biodiversity through an integrated ecosystems approach
• Provide incentives for improving ecosystem services
Livestock is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, especially in New Zealand. A compound developed by Lincoln University scientists, when applied to urine patches in pastures, helps prevent the formation of these gases and nutrient leaching. Keeping nutrients in the soil improves pasture growth and provides an inexpensive form of additional feed. The product is expected to dramatically reduce New Zealand’s emissions while also reducing nitrate run-off into watercourses by between 30 per cent and 60 per cent. Many farmers have already adopted the technology.
The combination of crop protection products and biotech crops has significantly helped advance conservation agriculture as a means of restoring and protecting soil and limiting erosion. It is estimated that conservation agriculture can reduce soil erosion by 50 to 98 percent while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent through reduced oxidation of soil organic matter. No till is now being utilized on more than 95 million hectares, mostly in the USA, Brazil, Argentina, China, Canada and Paraguay. No till farming in the USA doubled in the five year period following the introduction of herbicide-tolerant soybeans. It is estimated that this led to the preservation of 247 million tons of topsoil and 243 million gallons of fuel in 2002 alone.
Innovative solutions can also help protect biodiversity – for example in the UK, farmers were encouraged to leave small plots of bare soil in their growing crops for skylarks to nest. The results were very positive: in fields where skylark plots had been made, skylark fledglings increased by 49% .
No-till also helps protect food sources for birds and other wild animals because the waste grain is not buried and this provides a good food source for many animals. The mulch resulting from the cover crops is also rich in insects and worms, an important food source for wildlife.
Increasing water efficiency in pesticides
Improving the formulation or pesticides and moving towards more precise irrigation and applications systems can help increase water efficiency. Froe example, the use of air induction nozzles, which mix air with the spray liquid, can reduce water volumes used from 1,500-2,000 liters with conventional sprayers to 200-800 litres. If the water-based sprays are combined with high precision application nozzles, water use can be brought to 10-50 liters per ha.
Improving rice production
Around 90% of the agricultural water in use in Asia is used for rice production. It takes about 5,000 litres to produce 1 kg of rice. Practices such as seeding pre-germinated rice saves about 15-20% water compared with the traditional transplanting method.