Universal Principles Farm Specific Strategies

The key challenge for farmers in the 21st century is to translate the principles of agroecology into practical systems that meet the needs of their farming communities and ecosystems. You can apply these principles through various techniques and strategies, each of which will affect your farm differently, depending on local opportunities and resources and, of course, on markets. Some options may include both annual and perennial crops, while others do not. Some may transcend field and farm to encompass windbreaks, shelterbelts and living fences. Well-considered and well-implemented strategies for soil and habitat management lead to diverse and abundant — although not always sufficient — populations of natural enemies.

guidelines for designing healthy and pest-resilient

FARMING systems

■ Increase species in time and space with crop rotations, polycultures, agroforestry and crop-livestock systems.

■ Expand genetic diversity with variety mixtures, local germplasm and multilines (or varieties that contain several different genes for resistance to a particular pest). In each case, the crop represents a genetically diverse array that can better withstand disease and pests.

■ Conserve or introduce natural enemies and antagonists with habitat enhancement or augmentative releases.

■ Boost soil biotic activity and improve soil structure with regular applications of organic matter.

■ Enhance nutrient recycling with legumes and livestock.

■ Maintain vegetative cover with reduced tillage, cover crops or mulches.

■ Enhance landscape diversity with biological corridors, vegetationally diverse crop-field boundaries or mosaics of agroecosystems.

As you develop a healthier, more pest-resilient system for your farm, ask yourself:

■ How can I increase species diversity to improve pest management, compensate for pest damage and make fuller use of resources?

■ How can I extend the system's longevity by including woody plants that capture and recirculate nutrients and provide more sustained support for beneficials?

How can I add more organic matter to activate soil biology, build soil nutrition and improve soil structure?

Finally, how can I diversify my landscape with mosaics of agroecosys-tems in different stages of succession?

Because locally adapted varieties and species can create specific genetic resilience, rely on local biodiversity, synergies and dynamics as much as you can. Use the principles of agroecology to intensify your farm's efficiency, maintain its productivity, preserve its biodiversity and enhance its self-sustaining capacity.

10 Indicators of Soil Quality

Assign a value from 1 to 10 for each indicator, and then average all 10 indicators. Farms with overall values lower than 5 in either soil quality or crop health are considered below the threshold of sustainability and in need of rectifying measures.

established indicator values* characteristics established indicator values* characteristics



Loose soil with no visible aggregates


A few aggregates that break with little pressure


Well-formed aggregates that break with difficulty



Compacted soil; accumulating water



A thin compacted layer; slowly infiltrating water


No compaction; easily infiltrating water

soil depth


Exposed subsoil


A thin layer of superficial soi


superficial soil that is >4 inches (10 cm.) deep

status of


slowly decomposing organic residues



last year's decomposing residues still present


Residues in various stages of decomposition or all

residues well-decomposed

Color, odor


Pale; chemical odor; no humus

and organic


light brown; odorless; some humus



Dark brown; fresh odor; abundant humus

Water retention


Dry soil

(moisture level)


Limited moisture


Reasonable moisture



Poorly developed; short roots



Roots with limited growth; some fine roots


Healthy, well-developed roots; abundant fine roots

soil cover


Bare soil


<50% covered with residues or live cover


>50% covered with residues or live cover



severe, with small gullies


Evident but with few signs


No major signs



No signs



A few earthworms and arthropods


Abundant organisms

*1=least desirable, 5=moderate, 10=preferred.

*1=least desirable, 5=moderate, 10=preferred.

10 Indicators of Crop Health


established values*



5 10

Chlorotic, discolored foliage with signs of deficiency Light-green foliage with some discoloring Dark-green foliage with no signs of deficiency

Crop growth

5 10

Poor growth, short branches, limited new growth, sparse stand

Denser but not uniform stand, thin branches, some new growth

Dense, uniform stand with vigorous growth

Tolerance or resistance to stress

5 10

Susceptible; does not recover well after stress Moderately susceptible; recovers slowly after stress Tolerant; recovers quickly after stress

Disease or pest incidence

5 10

Susceptible; >50% of plants damaged

20-45% of plants damaged

Resistant; <20% of plants with light damage

Weed competition and pressure

5 10

Crops stressed and overwhelmed by weeds Moderate presence of weeds exerting some competition

Vigorous crop that overcomes weeds

Actual or potential yield

5 10

Low in relation to local average

Medium or acceptable in relation to local average

Good or high in relation to local average

Genetic diversity

Two varieties

More than two varieties

Plant diversity

Two species

More than two species

Natural surrounding vegetation

5 10

Surrounded by other crops; no natural vegetation Adjacent to natural vegetation on at least one side Adjacent to natural vegetation on at least two sides

Management system

5 10

Conventional agrichemical inputs

In transition to organic; IPM or input substitution

Diversified; organic inputs; low external inputs

*1=least desirable, 5=moderate, 10=preferred.

*1=least desirable, 5=moderate, 10=preferred.

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