Low-cost Farming – Reducing Input Costs While Improving Yields
Agriculture has been a sector of vital economic importance for centuries, providing food and nutrition to a growing global population. The global demand for food is predicted to increase from 35 to 56 per cent between 2010 and 2050 (Van Dijk et al., 2021); therefore, farmers face the challenge of producing more while respecting the environment and containing costs, especially in poverty-affected areas. Effective solutions to this problem can be found in low-cost farming. Low-cost farming involves the reduction of input costs while maintaining the same yields or even increasing them. Here are some strategies to achieve it.
1. Soil Testing is essential to determine the nutrient levels, pH and other values in the soil. By understanding soil conditions, farmers can avoid over-fertilising and using unnecessary pesticides, thus reducing the input costs.
2. Crop Rotation is the practice of planting different crops in the same field in successive seasons. This technique helps to break the pest and disease cycles, improve soil fertility, and reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides.
3. Use of Organic Fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers can be hugely expensive (according to the Royal Horticultural Society, their wholesale price doubled in 2021) and damage the environment. Organic fertilizers such as plant compost and manure are an excellent, low-cost way to recycle farm waste and provide healthy nutrients to the soil, leading to better yields.
4. Water Conservation. Water scarcity is a global issue (UN Water, 2021). Drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, and mulching are some of the techniques that can help preserve water, reduce water bills and increase yields.
5. Sustainable Mechanisation. Sustainable mechanisation (i.e., operating with the right power source) can help farmers reduce labour costs and increase productivity, especially in developing countries (FAO, 2019). By investing in appropriate machinery, farmers can save time and achieve higher yields with lower labour costs.
6. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a holistic approach to pest control that includes a combination of techniques such as crop rotation, biological control, and cultural practices to manage pests. This approach relies less on the use of pesticides, is sustainable, lowers costs and contributes to biodiversity.
Farmer Charlie smart technology helps with soil testing and water management and is a cost-effective solution in low-cost farming strategies.
A successful example of organic fertilising at no cost is Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) ‘that avoids the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and instead is based on homemade amendments, made from locally sourced materials such as cow dung, urine and plant residues.’ ZBNF has been adopted by 600,000 farmers in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Recent research on the efficiency of this system showed that ‘there is no short-term yield penalty when adopting ZBNF in small scale farming systems compared to conventional and organic alternatives’ (Duddigan et al., 2022).
Soil testing, crop rotation, organic fertilizers, water conservation, sustainable mechanisation, and integrated pest management can really help farmers succeed in low-cost farming, improve the economic viability of their activities and look after the environment.