Importance and Future of Sustainable Agriculture
The Importance of Sustainable Agriculture
- Satisfy human food and fiber needs
- Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends
- Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable 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 Benefits
- Keeping carbon in the soil. A method called no-till farming maintains carbon in the soil instead of releasing it into the air. No-till farming calls for the farmer to leave crop detritus in the field after harvest instead of plowing it under. It can extend to planting, when the farmer drops seed on the ground rather than submerging under the soil surface. It also reduces the number of passes through a field with machinery.
- Reducing the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. The practice of alternating different crops in the same field, called crop rotation, helps keep the soil healthy and productive, developing a mix of nutrients in the soil. This can help reduce the use of fertilizer and chemicals to kill weeds and insects.
- Maintaining pastureland. Rotating grazing livestock from field to field builds up soil from the animals’ manure, boosting the robustness of different pastures since the livestock doesn’t strip one field of its grass. It also enables the soil to store more carbon.
- Reducing fuel consumption. Planting crops that come up every year, called perennials, reduces the number of times farmers must take machinery into the field to plant and apply chemicals.
Trends Shaping the Future of Sustainable Agriculture
Challenges to Building Sustainable Agriculture Strategies
- National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, NIFA offers loans and grants for projects that boost agricultural yields; improve the efficiency of water and nitrogen use; reduce losses from stresses, diseases, and pests; reduce foodborne diseases; and develop bio-based fuels, chemicals, and coproducts.
- American Farm Bureau Federation. AFBF is a mainstream organization representing farmers and agribusinesses. It provides information about sustainable practices to its members, focusing on “climate smart” farming, carbon markets, renewable energy, and research.
- 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Some 45 nations promised action and investment to protect the environment and move to sustainable farming methods. Pledges to be achieved by 2030 included plans by Brazil to increase its ABC+ low-carbon farming program and plans by Germany to lower emissions from land use by 25 million tons.
- World Bank. The World Bank sponsors sustainable ag projects that affect sustainable transportation, processing, and markets.
- Private sector. The private sector recognizes the importance of sustainable agriculture as well as potential sales and profits. Large multinational companies develop seeds for crops that can grow more efficiently. Startup companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere are adapting technology to meet sustainable farming needs, such as making beef and dairy cattle farming more productive and efficient and analyzing soil health.