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Plant diversity improves your soil and yields

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Regular evaluation of farm biodiversity ensures early correction, especially where important plant and animal species are disappearing

What is bio-diversity?

The word biodiversity has been thrown around quite a bit lately, but what does it really mean? It simply is the variety of life that includes plants, animals and micro-organisms within an environment or ecosystem. Our farms can be considered as small ecosystems. If your ecosystem is balanced and healthy, your crops and animals will thrive. Understanding and conserving biodiversity is important for farmers to achieve overall farm health and get maximum benefits from their species of plants and animals.

Why is biodiversity important?

Having a rich diversity of plants and animals (including insects) provides many benefits to the farmer. A rich variety of plants, including manageable weeds, and volunteer plants, add to soil organic matter. Plants also provide habitats and breeding grounds for beneficial insects and when ploughed into the soil, they become food for soil microorganisms. Insects help in pollination while predator species control pest populations, reducing pest attacks. Having a rich diversity of crops also helps you take advantage of crop-to-crop interactions. Inter-cropping tomatoes with onions, garlic, and basil, reduces spider mites as the smell of these crops repels them and other tomato pests. Mixed cropping also ensures that your soil is sufficiently covered, and that the space in your garden is used effectively without creating competition between plants.

Measuring biodiversity

Scientific measuring of the rate of farm biodiversity might be difficult for a farmer. However, having a general understanding or feel about the situation of your field by carrying out a simple count of plants (including weeds and hedges) and evaluating the different types of insects and birds, can tell you how good your farm is in this regard. Regular evaluation of farm biodiversity ensures early correction, especially where important plant and animal species are disappearing.

How to increase biodiversity on your farm

Achieving biodiversity can be fun. Farming is the art of maintaining, among other things, seed, biodiversity and the environment. That should be your drive as a farmer. The following practices can help you maintain a rich diversity

  • Intercropping and crop rotation

These practices enrich the diversity of crops grown on the farm and, therefore, support species diversity. Intercropping involves growing more than one crop on the same plot, side by side. The crops are usually beneficial to each other and do not compete for nutrients. Crop rotation involves changing the crops grown on a particular plot in a given pattern based on the different characteristics, nutrient needs, and pest and disease susceptibility of the different crops.

  • Cover-cropping

Cover-cropping is the growing of non-competing crops that spread underneath the main crop. Legumes form good cover crops. This practice protects the soil from erosion, conserves soil moisture, adds organic matter to your soil and provides suitable habitats for beneficial insect species.

  • Planting hedges and buffer zones

Planting a hedge around the farm provides hiding and reproduction environments for beneficial species. Buffer zones – land with permanent vegetation that helps trap sediment, enhance filtration of nutrients and pesticides by slowing down runoff and holds soil particles together, thereby reducing erosion and landslides – play the same function. Buffer zones can be established anywhere depending on the farm size and layout. The different plants in the buffer zones provide undisturbed habitats for insects and small animals.

  • Agroforestry

Planting trees also increases the diversity of plant and useful animal species on your farm. It is important to consider a few indigenous trees on your farm.

  • Conservation tillage

Conservation tillage reduces soil disturbance, providing a conducive environment for microorganisms.

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