Sustainable agriculture is the act of farming using principles of ecology, the study of relationships between organisms and their environment. The phrase was reportedly coined by Australian agricultural scientist Gordon McClymont. It has been defined as “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will last 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 non-renewable 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.
Sustainable agriculture around the world is on the rise. Most recently, as consumer and retail demand for sustainable organic products has risen, organizations such as Food Alliance and Protected Harvest have started to provide measurement standards and certification programs for what constitutes a sustainably grown crop.
Many agricultural industry participants have made a firm commitment to protecting the environment and social responsibility. As such, Fusion Properties is working with the state-licensed medical marijuana growers in North America in creating an extensive Sustainability Program.
Sustainability is far more than a catch phrase. It is also much broader than taking an ecologically sound approach to organic farming. It involves close attention to detail in each of the three components required for a healthy company: the environment, the people, and the economic bottom line. In response to an industry-wide concern for each of these areas, Fusion Properties is taking a proactive role in guiding the nation’s organic Grower’s toward sustainable practices and has sponsored the development of a National Grower’s Sustainability Code that establishes definitions and guidelines for environmental and social responsibility. Growers that meet with rigorous standards will earn the right to include the official “Accredited Sustainable-Grower of America” seal on their products.
Sustainable agriculture takes many forms, but at its core is a rejection of the industrial approach to food production developed during the 20th century.
This industrial and mega-farm system, with its reliance on monoculture, mechanization, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, biotechnology, and government subsidies, has made food abundant and affordable. However, the ecological and social price has been steep: erosion; depleted and contaminated soil and water resources; loss of biodiversity; deforestation; labor abuses; and the decline of the family farm.
The concept of sustainable agriculture embraces a wide range of techniques, including organic, free-range, low-input, holistic, and biodynamic.
The common thread among these methods is an embrace of farming practices that mimic natural ecological processes. Farmers minimize tilling and water use; encourage healthy soil by planting fields with different crops year after year and integrating croplands with livestock grazing; and avoid pesticide use by nurturing the presence of organisms that control crop-destroying pests.
Beyond growing food, the philosophy of sustainability also espouses broader principles that support the just treatment of farm workers and food pricing that provides the farmer with a livable income.
Critics of sustainable agriculture claim, among other things, that its methods result in lower crop yields and higher land use. They add that a wholesale commitment to its practices will mean inevitable food shortages for a world population expected to exceed 8 billion by the year 2030. There’s recent evidence, though, suggesting that over time, sustainably farmed lands can be as productive as conventional industrial farms.