Sustainable Agriculture Explained

When we sit down to a Sunday Roast do we ever really think about where it came from? What was really involved in ensuring that I can feed myself and my family with nutritious food to stay healthy. And at what cost?

Agriculturehas moved through an array of transformations depending on the populations concerns and demands. In the 1940’s development of new, high yieldingvarietiesof wheat, in Mexico, kicked off the “Green Revolution”. Mexico soon became an exporter of wheat, no longer reliant on expensive imports to feed its people.By the 1960’s the concept had spread worldwide, and with it the increased use offertilizers and pesticides. Countries like India were able to rise from the brink of starvation. We were now feeding the ever increasing world population. But at what cost?

The cost of the Green Revolution was notrealizeduntil the 1960’s, when Rachel Carson, in her book “Silent Springs” and other environmentalists, highlighted the long-term detrimental affect that pesticides, such as DDT, were having on our environment and food chain. Agriculture began to take another turn, growing food without killing our environment was now becoming the main focus.

Sustainable Agriculture is a term used to encompass many different agricultural movements from organics, permaculture, biodynamic farming to Integrated Crop Management. All having a common goal . . .farming with the future in mind for both us and our planet. Sustainable agriculture is formally defined as:

“An integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:satisfy human food and fiber needs;enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural 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; andenhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole”(Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (FACTA), Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1603 -Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1990)
Previous approaches to agriculture, almost disregarded nature’s role in growing things. Soil was considered an inert substrate for planting into, any nutrients required by the crop were added in the form or inorganic fertilisers. Natural insect balances were simplified with the use of pesticides. Sustainable agriculture takes a different view, the soil is a living organism! The natural insect balances are to be respected and protected.
In sustainable agriculture, soil structures are nourished and maintained through practices such as organic matter build up ( green manures, composting), minimum tillage and enhancement of biological activity. This approach means that stronger,healthy, morenutritiousplants are produced the way nature intended.
Pest control practices take a step back and try to understand why the problems are there and learn from nature’s approach to ecological balance. Indiscriminate use of pesticides is avoided, thereby encouraging and protecting natural enemies of key pests, who in turn, control the pests for us. Increase in bio-diversity within the crop and other practices such as crop rotations, mulching and correct nutrition, help to maintain a healthy crop and protect it from attack.
What is important about all these practice whether they are grown under the watchful eye of organicassociations, or Integrated Crop Managementorganizationssuch as LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) is that the approach satisfies the demand of the population, without sacrificing the planet to achieve it and ensuring that resources (for example: oil, water, soil) are going to be around for future generations to benefit from.