5 benefits of perennial crops for the planet
By the year 2050, there are expected to be 9.7 billion people living on the planet. The challenge we face is farming to feed this population, while at the same time protecting the planet’s resources. With climate change and increasing environmental concerns, we need to consider what crops we are growing as each plant type has a unique impact on the earth.
There are two main plant types: annuals, which complete their entire life cycle in a single year or season, and perennials, which are able to regrow and reproduce fruits, grains and seeds after a harvest.
Here are the five benefits of growing perennial crops, according to Yoav Yichie, PhD Agronomy and General Manager for Aerobotics Australia:
1. Soil structure
Because perennials remain in the field for a number of years, the plant roots and soil organisms form a symbiotic relationship in the rhizosphere. This positively affects the chemical, physical and biological properties of the soil. As the tree grows and spreads its roots, the soil is aerated and channels are created for water to move through the soil. This creates an ideal environment for microbial communities that improve oxygen, water and nutrient availability for the roots.
Above the ground, some perennial crops have advantages, such as maintaining most of their foliage throughout the seasons. This cover helps to reduce evaporation of water from the soil driven by the heat of the sun. During weather changes like wind and rainfall, the cover afforded by perennials protects the soil and keeps its structure intact. Nutrients are available for plants come rain or shine due to the preservation of the valuable topsoil.
With roots that reach further down into the soil than annual plants, perennials are able to absorb nutrients from deeper soil profiles than annuals. This, in some cases, also prevents fertilisers from leaching and contaminating the underground water. Cropping systems with rotating annual crops leave the soil bare for part of the year and fertilisers such as nitrogen vulnerable to leaching when there are no living plants around to capture it.
Insects can be an expensive threat to growers due to the cost of pesticides and yields lost. A thriving predator community is one natural solution to an infestation. While annual crop growers cannot maintain habitats from season to season, the year-on-year nature of perennials means an increase in biodiversity, more natural beneficial enemies and a decreased need for pesticides.
Perennials require less fossil fuel to cultivate than annual species which need to be tilled and replanted each year. Being mindful of our energy sources and greenhouse gas emissions will help us to address the threat of climate change and ensure a sustainable future.
As the challenges posed by climate change become more acute, the global food system needs to transform significantly to feed a growing population while reducing our impact on nature. We need to evolve and adjust to the changes based on the current challenges we’re facing. In addition, we must adapt to smart and sustainable farming solutions to support our growers feed the population while facing more erratic and extreme weather events.