This week’s AgriToday cover story of a farmer who managed to realise a longstanding dream of owning a piece of land is encouraging and an eye-opener to those who give up at the first hurdle. Perseverance. Determination. Resilience. That’s all that is needed to make it in this cut-throat, yet profitable agribusiness world.
One distinct advantage of the farmer is that she employed mixed farming techniques to the letter, and it saved her when all seemed lost. Some may call it diversification or integrated farming; the principle remains the same. This is not new either, as throughout history, farmers had developed innovative strategies for maximising their space and efficiency.
Raising both crops and livestock simultaneously, or using one field for two crops are both methods employed to make the most of the resources available. There are several advantages which farmers could make use of.
Back to mixed farming. Mixed farming is defined as farming involving two or more enterprises. For instance, raising livestock and crops simultaneously and in the same location can be explained as mixed farming. The manure produced by the livestock is used to produce better crops, and the crops can, in turn, be used to feed the livestock. This provides environmental balance, and also supports a sustainable system.
In addition, the crop/livestock farming system provides a variety of financial benefits. It offers a high return on the work of the farm since all products are utilised. Feed and fertiliser do not need to be purchased to support the growth of crops or maintenance of livestock, thereby saving money.
The system provides work throughout the year, and it also offers a multi-pronged approach to income so that if a crop does poorly in a given season, the farmer can fall back on income from the sales of meat, milk or eggs.
One disadvantage to mixed farming is that a farmer will require more resources, such as tools and equipment, to care for livestock and crops simultaneously, than would a farmer engaged in just one such line of business. Also, additional education is typically required to provide the background necessary to enable a farmer to maintain a mixed farm.
Mixed cropping, also known as polyculture or co
cultivation, occurs when two or more plants are grown together in the same field. The plants are interdigitated, meaning that they grow together. Not only does this provide environmental benefits, it saves space since different crops flourish at different times of the year, and die off in others.
If one plant has reached its peak size during its harvest season but another is still growing, farmers will use less space than if they had one field devoted to each crop separately. Other advantages to multiple cropping, experts say, include an improved balance of soil nutrients and the suppression of weeds, diseases and pests. It also leads to an increase in overall productivity.
One key disadvantage to mixed cropping is the limitations it places on capacity. Though it is far more efficient, particularly in smaller spaces, you are only able to grow half as many of each crop when two share a field than if you had one field devoted to each. However, depending on the space available, farmers may find this to be an acceptable trade-off.
Whichever method of mixed farming you choose, you are bound to reap more benefits than setbacks. So, get on it. Make hay while the sun shines.