Sustainable agriculture can be defined in many ways, but ultimately it seeks to sustain farmers, resources and communities by promoting farming practices and methods that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities. Sustainable agriculture fits into and complements modern agriculture. It rewards the true values of producers and their products. It draws and learns from organic farming. It works on farms and ranches large and small, harnessing new technologies and renewing the best practices of the past.
Sustainable agriculture is a type of agriculture that focuses on producing long-term crops and livestock while having minimal effects on the environment. This type of agriculture tries to find a good balance between the need for food production and the preservation of the ecological system within the environment. In addition to producing food, there are several overall goals associated with sustainable agriculture, including conserving water, reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and promoting biodiversity in crops grown and the ecosystem. Sustainable agriculture also focuses on maintaining economic stability of farms and helping farmers improve their techniques and quality of life.
- satisfy human food and fiber needs
- enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends
- make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls
- sustain the economic viability of farm operations
- enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.
Objectives of Sustainable Agriculture
- Make best use of the resources available
- Minimize use of non-renewable resources
- Protect the health and safety of farm workers, local communities and society
- Protect and enhance the environment and natural resources
- Protect the economic viability of farming operations
- Provide sufficient financial reward to the farmer to enable continued production and contribute to the well-being of the community
- Produce sufficient high-quality and safe food
- Build on available technology, knowledge and skills in ways that suit local conditions and capacity.
Goals of Sustainable Agriculture
- Satisfy human food and clothing (cotton, wool, leather) needs
- Enhance environmental quality and natural resources
- Use nonrenewable resources more efficiently
- Take better advantage of on-farm resources
- Employ natural and biological controls for pests and disease
- Sustain the economic viability of farming
- Enhance the quality of life of farmers and society as a whole
IMPORTANCE OF SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
Sustainable agriculture frequently encompasses a wide range of production practices, including conventional and organic. A regionally integrated system of plant and animal production practices are designed to produce long-term results such as:
- Production of sufficient human food, feed, fiber, and fuel to meet the needs of a sharply rising population
- Protection of the environment and expansion of the natural resources supply
- Sustainment of the economic viability of agriculture systems
Sustainable agriculture practices
Over decades of science and practice, several key sustainable farming practices have emerged—for example:
- Rotating crops and embracing diversity. Planting a variety of crops can have many benefits, including healthier soil and improved pest control. Crop diversity practices include intercropping (growing a mix of crops in the same area) and complex multi-year crop rotations.
- Planting cover crops. Cover crops, like clover or hairy vetch, are planted during off-season times when soils might otherwise be left bare. These crops protect and build soil health by preventing erosion, replenishing soil nutrients, and keeping weeds in check, reducing the need for herbicides.
- Reducing or eliminating tillage. Traditional plowing (tillage) prepares fields for planting and prevents weed problems, but can cause a lot of soil loss. No-till or reduced till methods, which involve inserting seeds directly into undisturbed soil, can reduce erosion and improve soil health.
- Applying integrated pest management (IPM). A range of methods, including mechanical and biological controls, can be applied systematically to keep pest populations under control while minimizing use of chemical pesticides.
- Integrating livestock and crops. Industrial agriculture tends to keep plant and animal production separate, with animals living far from the areas where their feed is produced, and crops growing far away from abundant manure fertilizers. A growing body of evidence shows that a smart integration of crop and animal production can be a recipe for more efficient, profitable farms.
- Adopting agroforestry practices. By mixing trees or shrubs into their operations, farmers can provide shade and shelter to protect plants, animals, and water resources, while also potentially offering additional income.
- Managing whole systems and landscapes. Sustainable farms treat uncultivated or less intensively cultivated areas, such as riparian buffers or prairie strips, as integral to the farm—valued for their role in controlling erosion, reducing nutrient runoff, and supporting pollinators and other biodiversity.
The bottom line. Today's well-managed sustainable agriculture yields nearly as much as conventional equivalents, suggesting that it is possible to farm sustainably without sacrificing yields and, therefore, profits.