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Intercropping is a technique in which a variety of crops are grown together, creating a microclimate that favors the survival of each plant, maximizes potential yields and maintains soil fertility Archaeology.

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For example, Native Americans developed an intercropping technique over 5, years ago called the three sisters, where maize, beans, and squash were grown together Archaeology. Maize consumes a lot of nitrogen, while beans supply nitrogen to the soil, and squash benefits from a shady, moist climate. Intercropping is one of many early discoveries in agriculture still being implemented today that promotes biodiversity, maintains soil composition, and fortifies plant health.

Techniques such as irrigation, intercropping, and crop rotation have progressively increased efficiency in agriculture. Over the last few centuries however, radical changes have been made in farming and many countries have made a shift toward conventional methods. Factors such as growing populations, economic instability, climate change, and pressures from companies to produce higher yields have contributed to this shift.

However, adopting these conventional methods subjects farmers to the greed of industry, as their crops depend on a high input of energy, synthetic chemicals, and genetically modified organisms.

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And once committed to the conventional practices, farmers find themselves locked in a perpetual cycle of loans, subsidies, and debt. Conventional agriculture is a broad term that has a number of definitions, but a crop can be classified as conventional if synthetic chemicals are used to maintain the plants. A significant amount of chemical and energy input is required in conventional agriculture to produce the highest possible yield of crops.

Conventional agriculture was developed to make farming more efficient, but achieves that efficiency at a major cost to the environment. The goal of conventional agriculture is to maximize the potential yield of crops. This is achieved through the application of synthetic chemicals, genetically modified organisms, and a number of other industrial products.

In maintaining a conventional system, biodiversity, soil fertility, and ecosystems health are compromised Huntley, Collins, and Swisher. Production of these crops is beneficial to nothing but food security and economy.

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Once established, a conventional farm requires constant maintenance but produces maximal yields. Maintenance is made easy for farmers as conventional farming typically involves monocropping, but is also very expensive. In a conventional system farmers will designate entire fields to just one crop, which creates uniformity.

Uniformity can determine both the success and failure of conventional systems. A uniform crop is ideal because it reduces labor costs and makes harvesting easy, but it can also impact biodiversity and make crops susceptible to pathogens Gabriel, Salt, Kunin, and Benton Chemicals and genetically modified organisms make maintenance of conventional systems relatively simple for farmers, but require a constant input of energy and money.

In a conventional system, farmers can apply pesticides and herbicides to crops at a much more efficient rate if they are made up of just one type of plant, but this has a number of unintended consequences. Since the goal of conventional agriculture is to maximize yields, environmental health and biodiversity are usually not preserved. Where conventional farming represents one extreme of agriculture, sustainable farming represents the other. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects.

Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved. Sustainable agriculture is a more holistic approach to farming than conventional in that it relies on ecosystem services and is typically much less detrimental to the surrounding landscape.

Sustainable agriculture is a natural way to produce food and has a number of social, economic, and environmental benefits. There are many types of sustainable farming that all rely on natural cycles to ensure plant health and crop performance. Sustainable farming forgoes the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers to produce food. Instead, farmers will plant a variety of plants together to promote biodiversity and ward off pests and pathogens Nicholls and Altieri Where conventional systems promote uniformity and depend on synthetic chemicals for protection against disease and pests, sustainable systems rely on biodiversity as a measure to protect against these things.

Sustainable agriculture profits farmers, economies, and food banks while existing symbiotically with the landscape. One example of many in sustainable farming practices, which emphasizes economic benefits and environmental health, is conservation agriculture. Conservation agriculture underlines the focus of sustainable agriculture in that it focuses on producing high yields without compromising the integrity of the environment. The environmental impact and production levels of each method will determine its overall viability as a solution to growing trends.

It is necessary to make these comparisons in order to identify the best agricultural method that can sustainably meet the needs of the current population. Although these comparisons are based off of scientific data, there is much more research that needs to be done in order to make a definitive judgment. To meet the needs of the current population requires a tremendous amount of resources. In addressing this rapid growth, production levels become a serious point of comparison.

Most research indicates that sustainable crops produce much less than conventional systems. There are many environmental benefits associated with sustainable agriculture, but its production capacity is limited. In general, sustainable agriculture fails to match up to conventional agriculture in terms of production.

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This result varies though, and in some instances organic crops actually best conventional crops. Although certain conditions may favor organic crops, conventional agriculture is designed to produce the highest yields possible.


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Many factors contribute to this difference in production. Conventional crops are designed specifically to produce maximal yields; therefore, the difference should be expected. Typically conventional crops are genetically modified to perform better under certain conditions than sustainable crops Carpenter However, these crops are also sprayed with toxic pesticides and herbicides to make up for their uniformity. Although levels of production are reduced in sustainable agriculture, studies show that higher levels of biodiversity are linked to healthier crops.

Biodiversity plays a large part in this comparison because it is a determinant of agricultural health and performance. The greater the biodiversity, the more immune plants are to pests and disease Gomiero, Pimentel, and Paoletti This is important to highlight because conventional agriculture discourages biodiversity and instead relies on synthetic chemicals to maintain crop health.

Techniques such as integrated pest management and intercropping could be applied to conventional systems and in turn promote biodiversity. High biodiversity is important to sustainable farming because it enhances the performance of the ecological cycles that the crops depend upon. It is important to encourage high nutrient levels and biodiversity as these two factors contribute significantly to the health of the crops and the landscape.

Although biodiversity does not directly determine crop yield, it does play a major role in the health and permanence of sustainable farms.

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Despite the impacts conventional methods have on agricultural land, not all conventional farms degrade biodiversity. The global impact agriculture has can be significantly reduced if conventional farmers adopt sustainable techniques. In addition to higher levels of biodiversity, sustainable farming is typically associated with better soil quality.

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The increased concentrations of these nutrients can be contributed to the depth of the food web and amount of biomass in sustainable systems. Sustainable crops are more permanent than conventional crops because they work in harmony with the landscape rather than drain it of nutrients and biomass.


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Soil management is vital for existing farms because agricultural production is increasing globally and land is becoming less available to accommodate this growth. Conventional systems can improve soil quality by practicing sustainable methods like no-tillage farming, agroforestry, and integrated pest management, but sustainable agriculture is the most effective form of food production in terms of maintaining soil conditions. Again, research shows that an increase in biodiversity and a reduction of chemical input can result in conventional farms with more healthy soils and improved crop performance.

A major problem concerning agriculture is soil erosion caused by nutrient loss, run-off, salinity, and drought. Organic systems enhance soil composition as well as prevent soil erosion due to the greater amount of plant material and biomass in the soil. Compared to sustainable farming, conventional crops are terribly inefficient at maintaining the integrity of agricultural landscapes. Conventional agriculture is therefore unable meet the demands of the growing populations without consuming a substantial amount of land and non-renewable resources.

On a global scale, water is a renewable resource that can meet the needs of our current population.

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Locally, however, water is a scarce resource and must be appropriated efficiently. The amount of fresh water available for consumption globally is small, but regional constraints make accessing that water even more difficult for many millions of people. Increasing demand for fresh water is pressuring global stocks. To conserve this resource a drastic overhaul of water saving techniques, especially in agriculture, must occur. Due to the abundance of flora and fauna in sustainable systems, organic soil typically retains much more water than conventional soil. This increased retention rate enables sustainable agricultural systems to produce much higher yields than conventional systems during drought conditions Gomiero, Pimentel, and Paoletti This is a desirable characteristic in agricultural land as it allows crops to be more tolerable to changing climate.

To manage available water resources, sustainable agriculture is the more efficient approach to feeding the world. A gap exists between current production rates and potential production rates of crops. Through better management of water and soil, much greater yields can be produced. Meeting future food demands is a dynamic problem that requires consideration of all things, but most importantly water and soil conservation.

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