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Sustainable Agriculture

13 May 2016

The way we farm today has changed dramatically since the last world war. New technology and mechanization have worked to constantly increase production time and output. Reduced labour has led to cost savings and allowed farms to gobble up greater areas for both crop production and animal farming.  

The benefits have been considerable in meeting a growing demand as the globe’s population continues to expand unabated. There is greater yield at lower costs and reduced risks through chemical fertilization. In addition, genetically modified plants have allowed greater resilience to pests and weather.

However, along with these benefits have come some serious challenges such as topsoil depletion, groundwater contamination, the surrender of traditional family farms to large co-ops, unemployment of labourers and the ensuing social ills, not to mention increasing costs of mechanization leading to continually rising costs even in mass production.

Differences between large commercial farming and sustainable practices

Differences between large commercial farming and sustainable practices

Perhaps the biggest difference is the starting-point philosophy: while sustainable farming needs to make a profit, the focus is firstly to protect the environment as well as communities and human and animal health.   

By and large, both methods of farming need to remain sustainable in order to survive – but  sustainable agriculture has the goals of environmental health and social equity built into the profitability structure. This is a shared vision between farmers and consumers. There must be responsibility for protecting resources as much as profiting from them – in other words, while we must do as much as we can to feed our world population in the present, we must also be mindful not to compromise the needs of future generations by destroying the valuable resources of today.

Keys to sustainable farming

  • protection of the needs of rural communities, their working and living conditions, as well as the preservation of the land and its natural resources, the welfare of animals, and health of consumers
  • high yields without undermining natural systems and resources
  • working within the flow natural processes rather than ignoring or struggling against them
  • using the best of current knowledge and technology but at the same time avoiding the negative consequences of industrial, chemical-based agriculture
  • minimising the use of pesticides and fertilizers wherever possible
  • using the right techniques to achieve weed control, pest control, disease control, erosion control and high soil quality.

Sustainable techniques

Crop Rotation: Instead of growing the same crops each season in the same field, the technique is to move or rotate crops from field to field every year, thus avoiding putting the same plants in the same soil year after year. The reason for this is that many pests have preferences for specific crops and if those crops turn up year on year in the same field, the pest populations increase dramatically. Crop rotation is therefore conducive to breaking pest reproduction cycles. Four or five year rotations are the most effective.

Soil Enrichment: In addition, crop rotation gives farmers the opportunity to grow crops such as soybeans that will replenish the field with plant nutrients, as well as growing cover crops such as hairy vetch, clover, or oats – all of which help to prevent soil erosion, suppress weeds and enhance soil quality. This reduces the need for chemical inputs such as herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers and allows beneficial microbes and insects to flourish. Crops grown in these refreshed fields are more robust.

Natural Pest Predators: Using the natural rhythms of an ecosystem, sustainable farming prefers to encourage effective pest control through birds, insects, and spiders – as well as introducing natural, disease-fighting microbes into plants and soil, to control undesirable pests. These ploys work to reduce the use of chemical pesticides which can have detrimental effects on natural pest predators.

Difference between sustainable and organic farming

  • Sustainable farming is not an official farming method – it is more of a philosophy or way of life. Organic products on the other hand can be produced on large industrial farms that are not sustainable.
  • Both methods, however, do not allow added or artificial hormones.
  • With organic farming, there is no limitation on how many acres can be used to grow crops whereas sustainable farmers plant crops in relatively small, mixed plots as a form of pest control and to increase soil fertility.
  • Organic certification does not always take into consideration the use of fossil fuels used to transport food for thousands of miles before reaching retail outlets. Sustainable food, however, is distributed and sold as close to the farm as possible.
  • Food produced on sustainable farms may not necessarily be certified as organic as the focus is rather on the methods used to grow food – methods that are geared to sustain the farm’s productivity for generations.
  • Water and energy efficiency are of prime importance on sustainable farms.
  • Animal welfare is often of higher concern on sustainable farms than on organic farms where sometimes the regulations are less stringent.  

At Netafim we believe that sustainable water management is important to all food producers.


Water is a scarce commodity and using it sparingly but to improved effect is a massive benefit to not only sustainable agriculture but as a vital policy for all farms. Through constant technological innovation, our irrigation solutions are continuously tested against the challenges farmers face everyday. Sustainability in farming is more than just methods and ideals – it impacts across the world’s ability to manage a healthy and reliable food chain well into the future.

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