Western View: Sustainable Agriculture

Taylor Hillman Features, Western View

Len Wilcox talks about the benefits and difficulties with the sustainable agriculture movement.

Sustainable Agriculture

We hear a lot of talk about sustainable agriculture these days and frankly, the term confuses me. Any business wants to be sustainable, but the term means so much more when tied to farming. Just what is it?

One group defines sustainable agriculture as the production of food, fiber, or other plant or animal products using farming techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities, and animal welfare.

That seems like a lot to put on a single solitary farmer, who is just trying to make a buck so he can feed his family. But break it down and its exactly what every responsible family farmer wants. It’s creating a home that is also a safe and healthful workplace, and producing crops in a way that not only turns a profit, year after year, but also builds up the land. And in doing so, the land is preserved so that the farmer’s great-grandchildren can do the same thing on the same land.

UC Davis issued a study that explains their definition of sustainable agriculture. They said:
“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. Therefore, stewardship of both natural and human resources is of prime importance.“

The entire ecology of a farm needs to be considered as a system, with each element having an impact on the other parts of the system. And the individual farm has an impact on other systems, such as local communities or native wildlife.

I think at its root, sustainable agriculture means don’t trade a short-term gain for a long-term loss. But the expanded definition of sustainable agriculture is much more. It makes a farmer a land manager, who must balance the benefit of everything he does with its impact on the entire ecosystem of his farm. That’s a very big job.

I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West.