Sustainable Farming Definition and Terms.

‘This article cites excellent sources in providing a sustainable farming definition.

National Agricultural Library Cataloging Record:
Gold, Mary V.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), Exploring Sustainability in Agriculture: Ways to Enhance Profits, Protect the Environment and Improve Quality of Life.” (SARE, 1997). Available at SARE Website: http://www.sare.org/publications/exploring.htm (8/23/07)]

“Sustainable agriculture: A whole-systems approach to food, feed, and other fiber production that balances environmental soundness, social equity, and economic viability among all sectors of the public, including international and intergenerational peoples. Inherent in this definition is the idea that sustainability must be extended not only globally, but indefinitely in time, and to all living organisms including humans.

“Sustainable agroecosystems:

  • maintain their natural resource base
  • rely on minimum artificial inputs from outside the farm system
  • manage pests and diseases through internal regulating mechanisms
  • recover from the disturbances caused by cultivation and harvest.”

Integrated Farming

 

 

In particular, environmental and economic factors must be recognized in a sustainable farming definition to remedy the perilous ‘farm crisis’ the world is facing. And given the circumstances arising from poor nutrition and food contamination from GMO’s and petrochemicals, better health promoting quality of food is of critical importance:

Ecological Concerns

Agriculture profoundly affects many ecological systems. Negative effects of current practices include the following:

  • Decline in soil productivity can be due to wind and water erosion of exposed topsoil; soil compaction; loss of soil organic matter, water holding capacity, and biological activity; and salinization of soils and irrigation water in irrigated farming areas. Desertification due to overgrazing is a growing problem, especially in parts of Africa.
  • Agricultural practices have been found to contribute to non-point source water pollutants that include: sediments, salts, fertilizers (nitrates and phosphorus), pesticides, and manures. Pesticides from every chemical class have been detected in groundwater and are commonly found in groundwater beneath agricultural areas; they are widespread in the nation’s surface waters. Eutrophication and “dead zones” due to nutrient runoff affect many rivers, lakes, and oceans. Reduced water quality impacts agricultural production, drinking water supplies, and fishery production.
  • Water scarcity in many places is due to overuse of surface and ground water for irrigation with little concern for the natural cycle that maintains stable water availability.
  • Other environmental ills include over 400 insects and mite pests and more than 70 fungal pathogens that have become resistant to one or more pesticides; stresses on pollinator and other beneficial species through pesticide use; loss of wetlands and wildlife habitat; and reduced genetic diversity due to reliance on genetic uniformity in most crops and livestock breeds.
  • Agriculture’s link to global climate change is just beginning to be appreciated. Destruction of tropical forests and other native vegetation for agricultural production has a role in elevated levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Recent studies have found that soils may be sources or sinks for greenhouse gases.

Economic and Social Concerns

Economic and social problems associated with agriculture can not be separated from external economic and social pressures. As barriers to a sustainable and equitable food supply system, however, the problems may be described in the following way:

  • Economically, the U.S. agricultural sector includes a history of increasingly large federal expenditures and corresponding government involvement in planting and investment decisions; widening disparity among farmer incomes; and escalating concentration of agribusiness—industries involved with manufacture, processing, and distribution of farm products—into fewer and fewer hands. Market competition is limited. Farmers have little control over farm prices, and they continue to receive a smaller and smaller portion of consumer dollars spent on agricultural products.
  • Economic pressures have led to a tremendous loss of farms, particularly small farms, and farmers during the past few decades—more than 155,000 farms were lost from 1987 to 1997. This contributes to the disintegration of rural communities and localized marketing systems. Economically, it is very difficult for potential farmers to enter the business today. Productive farmland also has been pressured by urban and suburban sprawl—since 1970, over 30 million acres have been lost to development.

Impacts on Human Health

As with many industrial practices, potential health hazards are often tied to farming practices. Under research and investigation currently is the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal production, and pesticide and nitrate contamination of water and food. Farmer worker health is also a consideration in all farming practices.


Contents


 

Farming’s Biggest Expense…Shipping

Cityfarmer.info.image.urban.farm

Vertical rooftop farms are vertically placed on tops of buildings but that’s not why they are successful as “vertical farms”. The fact that they can add value to their end product creates greater profit potential. How they do it is through sales to local CSA groups and to restaurants located in the immediate vicinity. Vertical integration of sales means that a value is added to the finished product thereby improving the net income for the farmer.

Growing in urban settings is gaining traction primarily because there is greater value in local food but the farmer has more to gain by eliminating the cost of shipping. The cost of freight alone adds upwards of 25% to a lb of lettuce. If that cost is eliminated, the revenue can be kept on-site and increase profits due to transportation as well as reducing shrinkage. If produce can be sold quickly after harvest, there is much less waste. A more fresh flavor and personalized touch also gives urban farmers a chance to turn greens into “green”.

The comments below were taken from a recent NY Times article describing the success of Bright Farms, Gotham Farms and Lufa:

When Lufa Farms began selling produce to customers in Montreal in late April, it signaled what could be the beginning of a tantalizing new era in the gastronomic fortunes of that Canadian metropolis.

For a traditional farm, he said, it is not unusual for lettuce to travel more than 1,500 miles over five or six days to a supermarket shelf, which can cost as much as $1 for a head of lettuce that will sell for $2. By improving the energy efficiency of food production, Mr. Lightfoot contends BrightFarms can change the economics of farming.

After four years of developing the business, building the greenhouse and refining growing techniques, Lufa Farms has started delivering baskets of produce to local subscribers: $22 for a six-pound basket and $30 for a basket weighing about nine pounds.

With more than 400 customers signed up and more joining daily, Mr. Lynn, a 60-year-old technology entrepreneur who founded, ListenUP! Canada, a hearing aid chain, says Lufa Farms can enroll a thousand customers, break even this year and reap a 15 percent profit in the future.

“Unlike a lot of start-ups, we’re not trying to find a market,” Mr. Lynn said. “We know there is a demand for this.”

Improving Competitive Edge for Small Farmers

The challenge for small farmers to compete with big box grocers is similar to the challenges that small grocers have. If Wall Mart and other discount food sellers are in your area it could be a challenge. The low cost of produce from subsidized US farms and from low cost sources in Mexico and overseas makes it necessary to find a niche when it comes to making a profit.

Certainly a local farmer has an advantage when growers have high visibility, organic and when buyers are educated to food quality and importance of buying local.

There are sure other strategies a farmers can practice to improve profits. Growing a unique head of lettuce is one way. ATTRA’s Steve Diver reports:

“A good example of changes in a niche market is the salad greens industry. Fifteen years ago, leaf lettuce was almost impossible to find. When leaf lettuces were introduced to the general public, few people accepted them. When chefs in finer restaurants began using them, more affluent people began asking for them in markets. The under supply led to extremely high prices; as much as $16 per pound was not uncommon. More and more small growers began producing salad greens, but it wasn’t until large growers entered the market that the price per pound went down significantly (to $6-10 a pound). Many growers can still get $4-6 a pound for greens, but as more large growers enter the market, this price will continue to drop. Long before the market has bottomed out is when small growers need to diversify and find ways to add value to their crops, like offering pre-cut, washed and ready-to-eat mixed lettuces. “

Labor and energy are the two greatest overhead costs to a small organic farmer. If you operate a greenhouse, use a tractor or grow in an illuminated indoor garden or warehouse, the cost of fuel can be a show stopper.