In order to be sustainable, an agricultural system must be able to maintain its usefulness and productivity to society for an indefinite period. Such a system must also conserve resources, protect the environment, produce effectively enough to compete commercially while enhancing the farmer’s quality of life and that of society in general. Unless the resource base is conserved and protected, it will be degraded in productivity, even eventually losing its ability to produce. Again, unless the people are provided with adequate amounts of safe and healthy food at affordable costs while at the same time, their quality of life is enhanced, the system will not be sustainable.
In defense of the industrial model of farming, it may or may not operate successfully over time. It may be possible to redesign and fine tune the original, bringing forth a new model which is acceptable to the social and ecological standards necessary to maintain long-term productivity, leaving the fundamental philosophy of farming intact. An alternative model has evolved and is being considered to address the ecological, economic and social balances needed in today’s massive agricultural markets. It is commonly called, “sustainable agriculture” but must stand the test of time before it can replace the system now in control. Economic performance relies on the achievement of the entire organism, which will require a holistic systems approach in farm resource management. For example:
1. Rely more on nutrient recycling, the fixation of nitrogen and the relationships of pest and predator. Use current and researched knowledge of nature and the ecosystem to enhance production.
2. Use less inputs from off the farm. Use natural enhancers and inhibitors to control production.
3. Encourage more use of biological and genetic capability of plant and animal species. Develop hybrids naturally versus using chemicals and artificial hormones to enhance production.
4. Improve matching of the patterns in which plants are set. Use the natural order of botanical principles to keep production consistent.
5. Emphasize farm resources management as well as conservation of soil, water and energy. Reduce chemicals, reuse soil and plant resources, and recycle water and energy to help reduce production costs.
Such a system’s approach to agriculture will require the cooperation of communities as a whole. Success for sustainable farms will rely on constant research and development of new methods of natural production, environmental awareness, ecologically sound practices, and economic challenges that must be shared by producers and consumers alike.