This proved to be a difficult piece to write. I wanted to get the basic concepts across without this piece becoming an exhaustive reference work. There are far better pages on the internet, than I could ever create, that already does this. But I also wanted to convey a few of my thoughts on the topic without it becoming a full blown sermon.
Let’s start by getting this out of the way:
IF IT ISN’T PROFITABLE IT’S NOT SUSTAINABLE
This statement should speak to both sides of the aisle! Firstly to the Sceptics and Naysayers, the aim is still to run a profitmaking agricultural business but there are better and more just, efficient and healthy ways to go about it. Secondly to the Converted and Idealist, all of us in the Sustainable Agriculture movement can do with a good dose of pragmatism to help implement and grow our ideas into reality. For those of you that would like to explore my second statement a bit more watch this YouTube video from Richard Perkins at Ridgedale Permaculture. It really resonated with me.
So my rant out of the way let’s get into the meat of it. What is Sustainable Agriculture about. If condensed to its essence it is the following definition from UCDAVIS Agricultural Sustainibility Institute:
“Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”
Practitioners of sustainable agriculture seek to integrate three main objectives into their work:
HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT, ECONOMIC VIABILITY & EQUITABLE SOCIETY.
One could elaborate on this and quote what SARE calls the 3 Pillars of Sustainability:
Profit over the long term
Stewardship of our land, air and water
Quality of life for farmers and their communities
To achieve this there are a myriad of issues that needs to be grappled with and a lot of practices that can be adopted. Sustainable agriculture often cross disciplinary lines combining biology, economics, engineering, chemistry, community development, and many others. The issues dealt with most are presented in the table below, but do remember these present the Extremities of a Continuum. Many Conventional Farmers already implement elements of Sustainable Practice and many Sustainable Farmers have got major room for improvement left (This farmer definitely being one of the latter).
Water Usage and Conservation
Organic Waste Management
Animal & Plant Selection for Adaption to Environment
Nonrenewable Resource Use
Profitability And Risk Management
Equity And Quality Of Life
As I wrote in an earlier piece, Sustainable Agriculture is a very complex topic and deals with a myriad of disciplines. All of the following are in some or other way part of the broader church of Sustainable Agriculture: Biodynamic Farming, Organic Farming, Regenerative Agriculture, Agroecology and Permaculture. To quote at length from the United States Department of Agriculture Website:
“Some terms defy definition. "Sustainable agriculture" has become one of them. In such a quickly changing world, can anything be sustainable? What do we want to sustain? How can we implement such a nebulous goal? Is it too late? With the contradictions and questions have come a hard look at our present food production system and thoughtful evaluations of its future. If nothing else, the term "sustainable agriculture" has provided "talking points," a sense of direction, and an urgency, that has sparked much excitement and innovative thinking in the agricultural world.”
To finish then here comes my sermon! I just couldn’t resist...
I got really annoyed with the following Blog Post by Angus McIntosh (Farmer Angus: Sustainability Is Defeatist) as it put Regenerative Agriculture on a pedestal above all the others and made a negative connotation to the word Sustainable Agriculture. I’m probably going to get my ears boxed as Angus has been walking the talk for a long time now and as such I really look up to him and what he has achieved. However statements like these only serve to confuse the general public and consumers even more.
It does bring us back to my earlier link to Richard Perkin’s work. We as Supporters and Practitioners should educate people more about Sustainable Agriculture and infuse our thoughts with a good daily dose of pragmatism. This will also go a long way to getting conventional farmers onto the wagon and take them forward with us rather than alienating them. I feel these kinds of statements also plays right into the hands of those out there that use buzz words and catch phrases to sell consumers the next big thing. When consumers have not even got their heads around the current terms and phrases in use and what it is they represent. And that is sure as hell NOT SUSTAINABLE and in the process the message gets lost.
In my next piece I will try and discuss how all the above works in practice and what we at Allendale Farm are doing to try and achieve this and implement it on our farm. Hopefully there will be some photos from the farm and maybe even a YouTube Video of our own to go with it.