Exploring Sustainable Agriculture

This is the first in a series of posts on Sustainable Agriculture. The purpose is to explore the two viewpoints of sustainable ag which are conventional farming and nonconventional farming. The hope is that when done we can try to merge the two or at the minimum understand each side without the abrasive and divisive tones that are used in today’s discussions. To start this exercise we need to define sustainable agriculture and clearly articulate the two sides.

Sustainable means being able to keep in existence, maintain or support long term. Hence sustainable agriculture is the ability to support or maintain the ag operation long term.  In the 1990 Farm Bill our government addressed sustainable agriculture as an intergraded system of plant and animal production practices that over the long term

  • Satisfy human food and fiber need
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the ag economy depends
  • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on farm resources and intergrade, where appropriate, natural biocycles and controls
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole

The current popular agricultural system can be identified by hybrid row crops, grown on large scale farms requiring large inputs of fertilizer, pesticides, and energy inputs has been termed as “conventional farming,” and  “modern agriculture.” This method of production method has been estimated by the World Bank to be responsible for 70-90% of the food production gains rather than increased acreage cultivated. Rapid technological innovation has led to high labor efficiency. The combined effect of modern agriculture has led to the expectation of cheap and abundant food in the U.S.

The most contrasting example of unconventional agriculture is permaculture. This system would be considered by a modern agriculturalist as a weed mess.  In this system a diverse crop of mostly heirloom varieties are interplanted with one species providing benefits to another species.  Pests are controlled by natural predators.  There is no tilling of the soil beyond the initial design. As an ecological purist the permaculturalist doesn’t harm the earth or people so energy use from oils and gas is to be avoided as much as possible.  This leads to a labor intensive farm.

I believe that in just defining the opposing viewpoints the picture begins to develop on why there is animosity towards conventional farming. In the next post we will explore conventional farming and its transition to sustainable farming.

Posted in Permaculture, Sustainable and tagged , , .