“The hidden beauty on this planet”
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A farm is the basic unit in agriculture. It is a section of land devoted to the production and management of food, either produce or livestock. In Simonswald, it is an enterprise owned and operated by a family. A farm can be a holding of any size from a fraction of a hectare to several hundereds hectares. In Simonswald, 80% of private land owners (incl. forest) have 20 hectare or above. 28 people own more than 50 hectare. Publicly owned forest around Kandel is largest with 710 hectare.
The development of farming and farms was an important component in establishing towns. Once a people move from hunting and collecting and from simple horticulture to active farming, social arrangements of roads, distribution, collection, and marketing could evolve.
Increasingly, in addition to food for humans and animal feeds, agriculture produces goods such as cut flowers, ornamental and nursery plants, timber or lumber, bio-fertilizers, animal hides, leather, industrial chemicals (starch, sugar, alcohols), fibers (cotton, wool), fuels (methane from biomass, biodiesel). Regarding genetically engineered plants there is a big resistence in Simonswald however. Better management of soil nutrients, and improved weed control have greatly increased yields per unit area. At the same time, the use of mechanisation has decreased labour requirements. Modern agriculture depends heavily on engineering and technology and on biological sciences. Irrigation, drainage, conservation and sanitary engineering, each of which is important in successful farming, are some of the fields requiring the specialised knowledge of agricultural engineers.
Agricultural chemistry deals with other vital farming issues, such as the application of fertilisers, insecticides, fungicides, and nutritional needs and traceability of animals.
Breeding methods contribute immeasurably to farm productivity. The packing, processing, and marketing of agricultural products are closely related activities also influenced by science. Animals, including horses, and oxen; however, are still used to cultivate fields, especially on steep slopes of Simonswald. Television disseminate weather reports and other information such as market reports that concern farmers. Computers have become an essential tool for farm management.
In the early 1900s, it took one farmer to produce food for 2.5 people, where today, due to technology, a single farmer can feed over 100 people. In recent years some aspects of industrial intensive agriculture have been the subject of increasing discussion. The widening sphere of influence held by large seed and chemical companies, meat packers and food processors has been a source of concern both within the Simonswald farming community and for the general public. There has been increased activity of some people against some farming practices, raising chickens and pigs for food being just one example.
Sustainable agriculture refers to the ability of a farm to continue producing indefinitely, with a minimum of outside inputs. Crops depend on nutrients from soil, air, water, and sunlight to produce food that human need. When farmers harvest crops, they take what crops have produced from the resources available to them. These resources must be replenished to allow the production cycle to continue. Otherwise, they would be exhausted and the land would be unusable for further farming. Although resources like the sun, air, and rain are available in Simonswald, nutrients in soil are easily exhausted. Anything like fertilizer for plants, or petroleum products to run machinery, reduces sustainability because of its reliance on non-renewable resources. The less the farm needs outside inputs to maintain production levels, the greater its level of sustainability. Suggestions for replenishing the nutrients in soil include recycling crop residues and livestock manure, which usually have nutrients, into the soil.
From an environmental perspective, given the finite supply of natural resources, agriculture that is inefficient - low on the sustainability scale - will eventually run out of resources, or the ability to afford them, and cease to be viable as a farming method. Agriculture that relies mainly on outside inputs contributes to the depletion and degradation of the environment. Many farmers in Simonswald woke up to the challenge by running their farms on an environmentally sound basis, using solar cells, installing bio-gas recycling units, and no longer using any chemicals as fungicides or herbicides. .
In an economic context, such farms must generate revenue to acquire things that cannot be produced directly. Fresh food sold from a farm stand requires little additional energy, beyond cultivation and harvest, though the cost of consumers' transport to the site must be included. Food that is packaged and sold at a remote location, like a farmers' market, incurs a greater energy cost for materials, labour, transport, and so forth.
From a system's view, the gain and loss factors for sustainability can be listed. The most important factors to an individual site are sun, soil and water as rainfall. These are naturally present in the system as part of the larger planetary processes, thus incur no costs. Of the three, the soil quality and quantity are most amiable to human intervention, through time and labour. Natural growth and outputs are also under control of human intervention. What grows, how and where it is grown can be chosen by the farmer. Two of the many possible practices of sustainable agriculture are crop rotation and soil amendments, both designed to ensure that crops being cultivated will obtain all the necessary nutrients for healthy growth.
Monoculture, a method of growing one crop in a field annually, is generally considered unsustainable because of the required effort from outside resources to maintain annual growth. Outside resources include the use of chemical pesticide, synthesized fertilizers. Moreover, monocultural farming method can deplete the land of other natural resources, and increase the salinity of the soil, rendering the field unfit for further farming. Pesticides, though beneficial and sometimes necessary in the shorter term, can harm the soil food web, a complex ecology of micro-organisms in soil that help sustain the plant from the roots down.
Throughout history, farmers seeking to grow crops usually confine themselves to growing only the fastest and most productive plants. Such practices can result in growing crops without the genetic diversity found in wildlife. Without such diversity in the genes, crops may become more susceptible to crop diseases and crop failure. The Irish potato famine illustrates a well-known example of the dangers of monocultural and mono-varietal crop cultivation.
Many scientists, farmers, and businesses have debated how to make agriculture farming sustainable. One of the many possible practices includes growing a diverse number of perennial crops in a single field, each of which would grow in separate season so as not to compete with each other for natural resources. This system would replicate the biodiversity already found in natural environments, resulting in increased resistance to diseases and decrease in effects of erosion and loss of nutrients in soil. Nitrogen fixation from leek, for example, used in conjunction with other plants that rely on nitrate from soil for growth, will allow the land to be reused annually. Leek will grow for a season and replenish the soil with ammonium and nitrate, and the next season other plants can be seeded and grown in the field in preparation for harvest. This method is considered to require a minimal amount of outside resources.
In practice, there is no single approach to sustainable agriculture, as the precise goals and methods must be adapted to each individual case.
Patent protection given to companies that develop new types of seed using genetic engineering has allowed seed to be licensed to farmers in much the same way that computer software is licensed to users. This has changed the balance of power in favour of the seed companies, allowing them to dictate terms and conditions previously unheard of. Some argue these companies are guilty of biopiracy.
Increasing consumer awareness of agricultural issues has led to the rise of community-supported agriculture, local food movement, slow food, and commercial organic farming in Simonswald.
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