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.


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