What does sustainable agriculture mean?

Sustainable agriculture stresses the importance of using resources for more than just their intended use.  This means sustainable agriculture makes sure the practices and resources used will help the environment, animal welfare, and human health over time. Farmers involved in the sustainable agriculture process believe that it is necessary to conserve their land and resources for the future generations of the world to come.  They can do this by focusing on key parts of sustainable farming such as: the environment, the economy, and the community.  All types of farms can achieve the techniques of sustainable farming!  Watch this video for an example of a farm that promotes sustainable agriculture:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3AP8MPgVrs

Environment

Sustainable farmers are very aware of the impact their farming practices have on the environment. For this reason, they try to limit their use of non-renewable resources.  On top of keeping the environment clean, farmers don’t want to depend too heavily on resources that could run out and affect their farm.

In addition to avoiding non-renewable resources where possible, the sustainable farmer tries to find new ways to keep their farm running by utilizing the resources that are already available to them. This has led to some interesting inventions, like the manure digester, which allows the farmer to reuse the animal’s waste products for fuel, fertilizer, and even electricity!  Watch the video below to see how dairy farms reuse manure to help the environment:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbci7wMuQWM

When sustainable farms use waste to create new things for their farm, they are using a “closed system.”  This means the farmer is reusing all that they can, and they also keep the environment healthy by breaking down toxins and harmful waste for good uses such as creating electricity.

Economy

The principles of environmental sustainability can be applied to agricultural economics.  One of the most persistent problems in agriculture is the unpredictability of the weather.  Everything from drought to heavy thunderstorms can kill crops and make it difficult for the farmer to finish his work.  Other factors, like disease and falling prices for crops, contribute to make farming a very risky business.

Sustainable farmers can help make their businesses less risky by diversifying their farms. This means instead of growing only one crop or raising one animal species, the farmer will grow and raise smaller numbers of many types of plants and animals.   If disease would strike one particular plant, then the farmer could still make a profit if he has a variety of crops.

Community

Sustainable farmers believe very strongly in providing for their communities. Some sustainable farms are even community run or funded.  Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms are farms where community members buy shares in the farm and in return receive baskets of food every week. In this system, farmers have an income at the beginning of the farming season, when they need to buy seeds and equipment. Without community shares, they may have to borrow money to grow their crops. Buying shares in a farm can help prevent the farmer from going into debt. In return, community members get fresh, local food for about six months. Some CSA farms also allow community members to visit the farm and see the land and animals that provide them with food.

Community supported farming is another example of a closed system in sustainable agriculture. Farmers feed the community and in return, the community members support the farmers. Both the farmers and community members involved in CSA farms rely very little on outside resources like grocery stores for their food or income.  Watch this video to learn more about Community Supported Agriculture!

http://www.pbs.org/video/2365168394/

Organic Farming

Some sustainable farmers choose to certify their products as organic. In order to make products that are certified as organic, farmers cannot use any synthetic chemicals, hormones or antibiotics in their production. In organic animal agriculture, there are also guidelines that farmers must follow to be certified organic. For example, dairy cows that produce organic milk must be allowed to graze outdoors for at least 120 days every year.  To learn more about organic farming, check out this article!

References:

asi.ucdavis.edu/programs/sarep/about/what-is-sustainable-agriculture