The advanced technologies that braced farms through the late 50s were great, for a bit. The agriculture industry was drunk on chemicals that promoted growth, big machines and indifferent government policies. Now, the industry is waking up in the 21st century with one hell of a hangover.
There was an intersect right around 1960 when the pace that farms were depleting matched the rate that farm size was increasing. The government in the U.S was refocusing agriculture efforts by integrating new technologies so that fewer farms could produce more food. It was the diet pill era for global farms. The industry was shovelling money into advanced technology without fully understanding the costs to the environment.
These technologies and techniques hit the earth hard. Slowly topsoil was being depleted, groundwater was being contaminated and rural farming communities were bearing the brunt. Eventually we got woke. The 21st century arrived and all of a sudden society began to question the agriculture practices that had lead to these issues. It was the classic people vs the establishment complex.
At one end the industry was not ready to be weened from their newfound production levels. At the other, workers and communities were rallying for social and economic equality as well as environmentally considerate practices. This push and pull ultimately led to the concept of sustainable agriculture.
Sustainable agriculture is more than just an amalgamation of social buzzwords. It’s a philosophy that intends to nurture the earth, while considering the effects our actions have on its future. It is described best as looking out for the needs of the present, without impacting the ability of future generations to look out for themselves.
Sustainable agriculture understands that the industry must remain profitable to exist. That is why another cornerstone of the ideal is ensuring economic profitability throughout the sustainability conversation. This helps anchor sustainable agriculture in reality and harmonises the needs of both sides of the industry.
With consideration to the environment as well as the industry itself, sustainable agriculture can provide benefits to both the community and the earth.
The Environment and Natural Resources
By completely ignoring the impact farming has on natural resources, ancient civilisations have met untimely ends in time gone by. These civilisations carry a warning for the contemporary agriculture industry. Control the application of natural resources and monitor the effects that its techniques have on the environment.
Sustainable farms are able to produce crops and livestock without using copious amounts of synthetic chemicals or GMO’s. They will also avoid farming practices that degrade the earth’s topsoil or that require large volumes of water or other natural resources. This initially seems like it would have a huge impact on Australian farmers, where drought has become commonplace and restricting water usage may mean huge losses in crop quality and quantity. But the point of the movement is to find sustainable alternatives, and this is exactly what it does.
The necessity of preserving water reserves is so important that farmers are now taking steps before planting crops to ensure that water can be used sparingly throughout the harvest season. This has come in the form of incentives for farmers buying drought resistant crops, low-volume irrigation systems and occasionally avoiding planting altogether.
Salt and pesticides used in water for crops have also become an issue for the environment. Some farms have been converted from wild habitats or are close enough to these habitats that the run-offs introduce foreign levels of salt and fertiliser into those environments. By managing the chemicals in these products, sustainable agriculture can protect native ecosystems and avoid a diversion of local water resources.
These same chemicals that are effecting natural environments are also affecting human ones. Sustainable agriculture attempts to move away from GMO’s and towards natural and non volatile crops.
Air Quality And Energy
No environmental discussion would be complete without mentioning the impact of power sources. Just as in any other industry, the discussion surrounding energy remains ambivalent. While there is a clear need to move away from fossil fuels, there is no energy source currently available that will replace the existing systems without having a significant impact on the agricultural economy.
Machinery innovation is already reaching this goal by improving the air quality and the earth’s health with conservative designs. EPA standards imposed on Farming machinery producers made a sink or swim situation. These companies responded by building Eco-considerate engines that don’t impact the efficiency of farm and agriculture work.
A healthy topsoil means a healthy industry. Managing a soil’s health is a key factor in making sure a farm has a future in cultivation. Topsoil is also an essential element within agricultural ecosystems and by improving its health, a crop can experience an increase in yields.
Aussie farmers are already testing methods to enrich the topsoil for crops. Simple techniques like crop rotation and adding animal manure or decomposing plant matter to fields have had positive effects on the topsoil. Other techniques like planting diverse crops to avoid that whole ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ concept, have resulted in more biodiversity on farmlands.
Supporting Rural Communities
Farmers in Australia have a hard enough time making due with slipping commodity prices and market downfalls without spending time trying to comply with sustainable practices, right? The truth is, sustainable agriculture can actually help Aussie farmers.
Despite being the antithesis to the ideals of Donald Trump, sustainable agriculture and the 45th president of America have one thing in common. They both want to make more jobs. As sustainable practices gain momentum, they’ll create more jobs within the industry by interpreting more techniques and skills. These practices also have the potential to then bolster the rural farming economy and return power to the small farms.
The reach of sustainable agriculture will also impact working and living conditions on rural farms. As Governments offer incentives for sustainable practices, rural farmers will be able to receive better wages. And they’ll receive these wages just for complying with more humane working conditions. A potential move from fossil fuels may also mean that farms can save costs when transporting and harvesting crops.
Aside from preventing pollution, sparing our natural resources and looking after our nations farmers, sustainable agriculture will also petition for those without a voice. The movement strives to earn livestock better lives. It does this by letting the animals live naturally within their environments. This signals a depart from the current standard for meat, eggs, and dairy products. Most of which come from factory animals living in cramped cages with limited to no access to the outdoors.
The focus on livestock and animal well-being allows farmers to let their animals live as intended. The effects will potentially reduce industry waste and malpractice. It will also give animals the right to move freely, eat and act naturally, while evading the stress of being cramped in a factory.