Transportation logistics, storage, and environmental protections all play a role in how a farm maintains its profit margin. This has evolved throughout the history of farming and has led us to the present day, where in these things there is an increased importance to recycling.
The Industrial Revolution made it easier for farmers to plant and harvest more crops in a season. This meant a need for faster transportation to get those crops to consumers. Developments in agricultural technology from 1945-1970 further increased crop yields and the need for practical ways to ship crops faster and with less expense, meaning farmers could pocket more profit.
The construction of canals reduced transport times from 20 days down to six, and was quickly followed by the expansion of the railroad. Railroad freight cars competed with the trucking industry and waterway barges for shipping methods. Competition in shipping methods also was a benefit to the profit margins of farmers.
Transportation, energy, and storage all continue to be areas where farmers can make a profit and avoid losses. Now, more farmers are turning to green options to save time and bring in money.
Containers to hold crop harvests are expensive. Because they are limited to one use, they do nothing to reduce the carbon footprint of farms, and they take up space in landfills.
New techniques in recycling allow for the manufacture Flexible Intermediate Bulk Containers (FIBC). These containers are also one-use, however, rather than being disposed of after they've been used, they are returned to the manufacturer for cleaning and repairs if necessary.
Not only are these products made out of recycled materials, but they can also be warehoused at the manufacturer’s site until needed. This means less waste and more room on your farm.
For decades, farmers used windmills to pump water to livestock troughs. They never realized they were the first innovators of renewable energy sources.
In time, farmers began to use solar energy. Eventually, energy companies reached out to farms to buy back some of the energy produced by wind turbines and solar panels, and by adding these to your property, you can capitalize on this option.
Livestock and dairy farms produce waste in the process of storing animal feed, such as hay. A survey of dairy farmers indicated there are five common methods used: plastic silage bags, bale wrap, bunker silo covers, bale twine, and bale netting.
The majority of waste plastic was disposed of in landfills, but another option was burning the plastic. Burning plastic is dangerous for the environment and for farmers. Plastic releases mercury, PCBs, dioxins, and furans as it burns. These chemicals can remain in the environment through contaminated water and food, and so humans are exposed by eating contaminated fish, meat, or dairy products. Many of those surveyed indicated an interest in recycling their plastic waste if that was an option.
Farmers are becoming more aware of conservation efforts, and often conserve the amount of water used by their crops through more efficient irrigation. Recycling water runoff is also a method for conservation, but if the recycled water must be treated due to chemicals used to fertilize or treat for pests, then the effort to recycle is wasted. Organic farming eliminates the need for chemicals and ensures any water runoff from the fields will not contaminate groundwater.
Composting garden and kitchen waste is also an effective form of recycling on a small farm. Maintaining a sustainable farm by using organic compost to amend the soil helps reduce chemicals that could potentially leach into groundwater supplies.
An indirect form of composting is raising hogs, which will eat your garden and kitchen waste. Free-range hogs, as well as chickens, can provide your family with healthy foods while still being able to minimize the impact your farm has on waste. In addition to providing eggs and meat, chickens are also effective in controlling some garden bugs and worms on established plants.
Farmers have always been creative recyclers out of necessity, since many small farms often have to survive from crop to crop. A bad crop year — whether due to weather or pests — could break a farm. Scrap metal from tools or equipment can be used to create or repair something else, or taken to a center which will melt them down for reuse. Another thing you can do is recycle used oil, which can be used to run heaters.
Finally, precycling is the mindful effort to not have to recycle by planning your purchases. This can include bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store, using cloth napkins or cleaning rags rather than paper, using washable and reusable silverware or plates instead of plastic or paper, and buying rechargeable batteries.
Regardless of whether your farm is large or small, any method you take for recycling or conservation is one that will benefit the environment and the health of your farm. It is the small steps that often lead to the greatest inventions and improvements.
Photo by Fotolia/photka
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