Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sustainable Agriculture

The annual Farm to Table Conference held in Memphis at Rhodes College is designed to bring together farmers and those who buy and use their produce. I conducted an introduction to beekeeping session attended by a number of farmers considering adding bee hives for pollination. The farmers conducting other sessions spoke along common themes: sustainable agriculture, quality of produce, food security, and integrated pest management. Sustainable agricultural practices include irrigation water usage and conservation, soil erosion control, and soil moisture retention. Several farmers spoke of the effects of climate change on farming practices. Climate change especially affects water usage and plant variety selection. Certain plant varieties known to be reliable in the past must now be replaced by a diversity of varieties that thrive under new environmental conditions. Climate change also affects planting dates, growing seasons, and harvest dates. To grow high quality produce, the farmers stress testing for soil fertility, acidity, and nutrients. Integrated pest management involves disease and pest prevention and control. Specific crop pests must be identified, and broad-spectrum insecticides should be avoided. Non-chemical controls include selection of resistant plant varieties, crop rotation, removal of diseased plants, and mulching between crop rows.

Robert Hayes, a New Albany, Mississippi blackberry grower, who also manages bees to pollinate his berries, attracts hummingbirds to his farm. Adult hummingbirds feed crop-damaging thirps and aphids to their young birds, a biological pest control. Farmers recognize the need for beneficial insects, particularly honey bees, to pollinate their crops. As well as keeping honey bees, Hayes drills nesting holes in dead trees to make nesting sites for blue orchard bees, effective native pollinators. My presentation to the other farmers explored the reality of maintaining honey bees on today’s farms. It is unfortunate that with the high level of annual colony losses beekeeping can hardly be called sustainable agriculture. The farmers’ awareness of agricultural practices that help and harm bees is important. Cool weather today prevented honey bees from foraging elm trees in full bloom.


  1. Hello, thanks for this post on sustainable agriculture. Can you let me know what you meant by "broad-spectrum insecticides"?
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  2. Alan,
    Broad-spectrum insecticides kill all insects that come into contact with the chemical agent. These insecticides don’t discriminate between pest insects and beneficial insects. Broad-spectrum insecticides kill bees and native pollinators that are important for crop and seed production. Broad-spectrum insecticides also kill beneficial insects that are predators of pest insects. These beneficial insects serve as biological controls of pests.