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Record numbers of people are switching to plant-based diets, with recent statistics showing that around 10% of the US population classifies themselves as vegan or vegetarian – in terms of world population, the number of vegans currently stands at around 79 million. Further, the veganic food market in the USA, already worth around $11 million, is set to increase to $16 million by 2029 if the diet trends we’re seeing at the moment continue.

While veganism has been widely lauded as a way to protect the environment and mitigate climate change – not to mention its proponents’ inherent concern with animal welfare – where does this shift leave traditional farmers? It’s been suggested that only a third of the land currently used for agriculture would be needed (most of which is currently used to grow crops to feed livestock) if we all switched to veganism. Enter stage left, the vegan farm.

What is veganic farming?

Vegan farming is set to grow in line with the number of people leading a vegan lifestyle. But what do such animal-less farms look like in reality? A vegan farm needs to not only raise no livestock but should also be free from the use of all animal products.

The farm should organically cultivate and grow food crops through processes that have minimal or no negative impact on the environment or animal welfare or could harm the health of humans.

Essentially, vegan farming seeks to untether plant farming from animal farming to produce plant-based food via sustainable processes without the exploitation of animals.

On the whole vegan farming practices have helped to bring a more positive spin on the farming industry as a whole. The industry could well do with moving more into the 21st century and it helps that farming now has more positive stereotyping in general terms, helped by positive new stories in the media, from being used as the vehicle for fun exciting games, to being dealt with in a balanced way in general news reporting. All as part of a nuanced approach to an industry that had been in something of a decline.

What the core principles of veganic farming look like in reality

Soil stewardship is at the heart of veganic farming: this means keeping the soil constantly covered with mulch, crops, or green manure to prevent the loss of topsoil and the nutrient leakage that could otherwise happen if the soil was exposed to the elements. Veganic farmers practice crop rotation in order to expose the soil to different types of plants, which have different beneficial effects.

Veganic farming also puts an emphasis on maintaining the biodiversity of free-living animals on the land. While such farms avoid any input from non-free-living animals, the presence of free-living animals is actively encouraged by, for example, conserving hedgerows and taking care of habitats such as trees and ponds.

Promoting local plant-based fertility is also important – this could be through locally sourcing biomass or producing mulch or wood chips on the farm itself. Green – rather than traditional – manures are used to enhance the soil’s nutrient content, along with nitrogen-fixing plants like legumes.

Veganic farming is not a new thing, after all

As it turns out, animal-free forms of agriculture aren’t a new concept at all. Ancient Mesoamerican peoples, including the Maya, practiced animal-free agriculture, using beans, corn, and squash – in fact, the milpa crop growing process, based on these long-ago techniques, is still used throughout Central America today.

The modern practice of veganic farming caught the wind in its sails in the 1990s with the founding of the Vegan-Organic Horticultural Agricultural Network in the UK. In 2008 the Vegan Agricultural Network was created, and this organization remains a key promoter of veganic farming in North America.

The challenges facing veganic farming

While there are many benefits to veganic farming, it’s not without its challenges. Eliminating non-free-living animals from the farming process makes soil fertility management more difficult, and the farm work itself tends to be more labor intensive. Issues such as pest management also pose both a logistical and ethical challenge. Further, resources for those farmers considering switching to veganic farming are currently limited, making possible transitions difficult.

However, it’s important to note that modern veganic farming methods are still in their infancy, and solutions to the challenges are sure to come thick and fast as the number of people switching to veganism continues to grow.

Veganic farming: the future

A UK farmer hit the headlines recently when, en route to the abattoir with two hundred lambs, he abruptly decided to change direction, taking the livestock to an animal sanctuary instead. From that moment forward, he made the choice to become a veganic farmer, and now produces plant-based food, using veganic farming processes, on his land in Derbyshire.

Without a doubt, veganic farming will increase to cater to the ever-growing demand for vegan foodstuffs, and the near future will no doubt see many traditional farmers switching to veganic farming methods. While there are fears that a veganic farm future will see a significant number of farmers lose their livelihood, there are new opportunities, too, as farming methods and innovations in the sector respond to veganism’s farming popularity.

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